Tuesday, 30 November 2010


All the bitter enmity, all the pointless self-pity
All the blind stupidity, all the ‘I, me, mines’
All the senseless cruelty, all the spiteful mockery
All the negative energy that weighs upon my mind
Peel them away like the layers of an onion - and fly!

A renunciation of all these things
A renunciation of everything that’s holding me back

All the dumb hypocrisy, all the petty jealousy
All the pride and vanity, all the wasted time
All the cold hostility, all the glib dishonesty
All the pain and the misery I search inside to find
Strip them away, these veils of the ego - and fly!

A renunciation of all these things
A renunciation of everything that’s tying me down

Watch the glass of water become a shining lake
See the handful of salt I pour dissolve without a trace
Watch the caged canary standing at the door
See it soar into the sky – what was it waiting for?

Let me find simplicity, lucidity and humility
Give me the serenity to open up my mind

A renunciation of all these things
A renunciation of everything that’s holding me back, tying me down, hemming me in
Oh, a renunciation of all these things!


i observe a number of positive and admirable qualities
which are regularly trumpeted in modern britain
we are encouraged and exhorted to be:
hard-working (as in "hard-working families")
responsible (as in "responsible parents" or "responsible drinkers")
patriotic (as in unquestioningly supporting government misadventures abroad)
loyal (as in brandishing our supermarket / department store loyalty cards)
status-conscious (good at keeping up with the jones)
credit-worthy (good at borrowing money to keep up with the jones)
entrepreneurial (having a good eye for making money)
wealthy (making money and giving it to the exchequer)
fun-loving (keen on spending money)
attractive, preferably sexy or ideally 'hot'
(the attainment of which is likely to involve moving more product)
youthful (not looking - or acting? - our age; ditto)
what all these qualities seem to have in common is two things:
obedience and conformity to society's pre-ordained goal
i.e. maximum growth by means of maximum profits
by means of maximum consumption
these qualities are carefully cultivated
at school
in further and higher education
and at work
but there is an attribute conspicuously missing from the above list
a quality which trumps all the others hands-down
an attribute attained by fully understanding the human condition
and the nature of things
a quality only achieved by cultivating conduct and actions
which bring deep and lasting fulfilment, peace and contentment
(as opposed to those that lead to misery, discord and chaos)
yes, our society fails miserably to cultivate wisdom
our leaders and elders
our greaters and our betters
those who should know better
only urge us to consume, hate, indulge ourselves and fan our egos...
and look on with satisfaction as we dumbly rush to oblige

Monday, 29 November 2010


as summer turned to autumn
and the free mondays appeared in my calendar
auspiciously aligned with some fine weather
i jumped into the roomy people's wagon
and escaped the flat west midland plain
heading twice northwards to the derbyshire peaks
then south-westwards to the edge of the black mountains
these urgent day-trips to the hills
were fuelled by more than petroleum
they were inspired by a form of claustrophobia
that feeling of being mentally hemmed in
a longing to break free of the narrow confines
to explore wild untamed landscapes
to open up wide endless vistas
to free myself of my mental shackles
before i shuttled home to city and family life
i had good intentions but i was wrong
my freedom was the alluring cinematic open road of the car commercial
but my desire once sated
only left me trundling back
through the narrow congested streets where i had begun
i didn't understand
that true freedom is not about bolting to the countryside
a kind of weekend euro away-break on the cheap
the task is to break through the invisible glass walls of the mind
to remove the veils of the ego
to elude the clutches of desire, hatred and delusion
which imprison the individual like a caged bird
that hurls itself time and time again against the glass
to open up the mind to the giddy summits
and the endless vastness of the sky

Friday, 26 November 2010

Thursday, 25 November 2010


we humans live in herds
we exhibit herd-like behaviour
we naturally crave the acceptance of others
we want to fit into the jigsaw
because being an outsider
the lone wolf without a pack
can be tough
but i've always been suspicious of the herd instinct
always sensed the dangers of the crowd mentality
the collective groupthink
my mother often repeats the story
told to her by my teacher mrs patrick
back at northfield manor primary
about the day when the wine cork popped
and all the children gasped...
except me, who showed no reaction
unimpressed by the incident
throughout my school days i rarely made friends
the pals i did have always had to make the running
i barely featured in school teams or groups
school with its clubs and cliques
its imposed rules
was an institution that held no appeal
like the lone wolf
i kept my head down
i accepted the deal
i played the game
i didn't kick up a stink
in fact i conformed to the whole hoop-jumping exercise
learnt to memorise and regurgitate as required
not to ask any questions
not to question the whole rationale
to lipsync or munmble the prayers and hymns in daily assembly
meanwhile the outsider in me patrolled the school grounds alone
out of sync
whiling away the precious days of youth...
on those teenage saturdays i sometimes stood on the football terraces
cheering on my team
joining in with the communal singsongs
probably as close as i ever got to the herd
but i couldn't countenence the abuse merchants
who hurled a constant stream of vitriol
at any player who made a mistake
or maybe simply wasn't good enough...
as an adolescent i took a bizarre delight
in liking music too 'alternative'
for anyone else to have even heard of it...
perhaps travelling the world
becoming a foreign language teacher
also represented a desire to break loose from the herd
to cross borders and continents was a form of escape
from the blinkered horizons of the petty little englander
to the pickings of the late twentieth-century globalised dream...
veganism is hardly a diet that endears one to the herd
ditto an anti-consumerist stance
which sticks up a massive v-sign
to the posse out rampaging through the bullring
or browsing frenetically
among the virtual delights of amazon dot com
as time passes the herd seems ever more bewildered
ever more passive and stupid
whether it be the dumb electorate
voting in tweedledumb or tweedledumber
the tv addict gorging on strictly or ex-factor
the loyal shopper filling her obese supermarket trolley
with over-priced processed pap
the wage slave out there on a sunday washing his shiny new auto
the sun reader gawping at his 'cheryl is a chav' headline
herd instinct?
i must have misheard

Wednesday, 24 November 2010


it isn't quite what nature intended
the regular four-in-the-bar plod of shanks' pony
the skip in the step
the opportunity for conversation and banter
the 'good morning mrs brown - how are you?'
the 'bit chilly today, isn't it'
the absent-minded daydream
the steady contemplation
the close-up and personal
the neck-craning
the head-turning
the jaw-dropping
the stop to stand and stare or admire...
but neither is it the dull antiseptic air-conditioned monotony
the alienating misery of steel-and-glass-caged isolation
a stale tomtom-assisted exercise in convoluted route-planning
a frustration-inducing
act of all-out warfare
a noisy
insurance company-subsidising
modern nightmare...

all things considered it's a pretty good compromise
of course you need to keep your wits about you when not off-road
develop a decent road sense
concentrate at least some of the time
watch out for the nutters
get yourself seen
but there's plenty of time for thinking
taking in the scenery and the fast-changing images
there's a certain rhythm in peddling
which has something in common with walking
and offers definite poetry-songwriting potential
you are like a boxer
you can duck and dive
weave in and out of the stream of traffic
act on impulse
nip down a side street
cut through a park
join up a couple of cul-de-sacs with a short pedestrian path
follow your nose
bend the rules a bit
jump the lights without anyone noticing
fly near enough as the crow flies
indulge in at least some conversation
(limited mainly by the level of traffic din)
shout a hello and flash a smile at an acquaintance
get by with affordable and simple diy maintenance
do your own route-planning
get some exercise
and get 'out there'

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


The church closed down a while ago
So now I go to pray at Sainsbury's
They've built a little paradise
Of rainbow colours and pretty lights
It's my weekly sanctitude
Among the packages of frozen food
It gets me out of the house on a Sunday

I like to calculate my points
They are a token of my loyalty
The special offers are so generous
Buy two - get one free
It's a place where the community
Gets together communally
And I just might see one of my neighbours

It's love in a shopping aisle
It's love in a shopping aisle

One day I'm there on Aisle Thirteen
Casually filling up my trolley
When I spy the girl of my dreams
Among the pyramids of baked beans
She can't get to the tin she wants
As she struggles with her basket
So I summon up the bottle
To reach and grasp it

"Is this the one you wanted?"
I timidly enquire
And she flashes me a smile as if to say
"How very very kind!"

And it's love in a shopping aisle
Oh it's love in a shopping aisle

Now she glides on to Ready Meals
And I find my mind is racing
It's not the money-saving deals
But her I ought to be embracing
And I struggle to make some sense
As I stumble through the condiments
For she's an item that wasn't on my list

And I search for a chat-up line
As I follow her to the beer and wine
"Maybe you'd like to join me in the cafe?"

But as I turn the corner
My poor heart stops and sinks
There'll be no assignations
In front of the soft drinks
For waiting at the checkout
An arm around her waist
I see my dream girl's sweetheart
Standing in my place

Oh, it's love in a shopping aisle
It's love in a shopping aisle

I've never seen her there again
But every week I go and pray at Sainsburys

Thursday, 11 November 2010


"point to the important and worthless in the world"
the mischievous zen master commands his pupils

hannah and i cycle to school
the paths and cut-throughs are slippery with fallen leaves
outside a converted old farmhouse-cum-stables
safely out of reach of the main road hullabooloo
i spot an ageing symbol of consumer society sitting sadly on the tarmac
a large grey bulky LCD television with a thirty-inch screen
almost exactly like the one someone recently gave us for nothing
(later tucked inside the operation manual
we came across the original receipt
the price a mere six years earlier?
a cool £1000!)
i wonder what fate awaits this once-luxury item...
a charity shop?
the scrap iron man?
a dowsing from the next passing shower?
in the blink of an eye
this consumer desirable once worth a grand
has become a burdensome white elephant
to be either given away or left out in the rain!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


1) us interviewer to dubya as relayed by radio 4 toady programme
(dubya is plugging his new auto-biography):
"was there ever a time when you considered apologising to the...
american people [for invading iraq under false pretences]?"
dubya: "no" (not even dubya could mess up that answer)

2) two o'clock news bulletin on radio 4 - main headline:
"prime minister david cameraman has raised the issue of human rights in his meeting with chinese premier hur jin tao"
(how on earth did the newsreader say that without cracking up?!)

Monday, 8 November 2010


Have you ever felt like Truman, the eponymous hero of 'The Truman Show', trapped in a meticulously simulated fantasy world which gradually stops making sense? Or maybe you have empathised with Dorothy, Scarecrow and Tin Man in the land of Oz as the curtain is drawn back to reveal a non-magical 'wizard' operating a giant console of wheels and levers?

Perhaps you have experienced nothing akin to either of these unsettling revelations in your own life. Perhaps you have never felt an urgent need to take off the blinkers and view the world as it really is. Either way, rest assured that David Edwards' brilliant first book will first unsettle you, then expertly guide you through the dense jungles of propaganda, illusion and false reality which encroach on all those who inhabit Western 'liberal democracies' in a thrilling search for that age-old Holy Grail which has eluded so many through the centuries - the freedom to be human.

Assembling the necessary tools and frameworks for such a daunting task in a readable format is no mean feat and here David Edwards has done an outstanding job, drawing on a range of insights from many of the finest historical and contemporary thinkers.

As Edwards says, 'we are only potentially homo sapiens'. This is therefore possibly the most important book any human will ever read!

Sunday, 7 November 2010


(class 1W - seating positions, front left to back right of classroom)
adams, craig - supermarket manager
amos, neil - university academic (psyschology)
birch, paul - 'ring and ride' driver for nhs
carey, anthony - accounts manager
carter, andrew - civil servant
jackson, simon - accountant
efstaphiades, john - university academic (mathematics)
elkington, paul - council employee (parks)
evans, david - primary schoolteacher
graham, danny - biochemist
gray, richard - factory supervisor
hood, richard - production manager
levine, simon - furniture sales manager
mack, ian - runs own bus company
mann, gurminder - pharmacist
mytton, andrew - runs own delivery business
mytton, mark - secondary schoolteacher (pe)
parsons, david - cricket coach
passalacqua, edward - science teacher at catholic secondary school
phillips, stuart - male nurse
price, barry - unemployed
rainey, philip - retail manager
rebello, gavin - opthalmic optometrist
ricketts, david - local government employee
rogers, andrew - actuary
rollason, christopher - solicitor
simmonds, david - call centre manager
smith, paul - retail clothes salesman
stringer, simon - council employee (administration)
thompson, richard - architect
(last but not least, right by the classroom door)
fireseed - productive idler

Wednesday, 3 November 2010


Jane finally struggled into the office twenty minutes late. It had been a nightmare commute through steady drizzle trapped in a never-ending queue of traffic. A roadworks sign read 'Delays expected'. But now she was finally here, where was everyone else? The whole place was eerily quiet. Surely she hadn't forgotten about a training event or away-day? Slowly she became aware of the quiet hum of computers switched on, the still-wet coats and umbrellas hanging from pegs. Then suddenly she made out the faint sound of voices carrying along the corridor from the kitchen at the far end of the office. Curious, she put down her bag on her desk, arranged her hair in her make-up mirror and crossed the office to the fire door.

The sound of laughter was emanating from the kitchen, but Jane was unprepared for the sight that met her eyes. Her office colleagues were scattered around the room involved in various curious tasks. Shaz and Jen were bringing two large saucepans of milk to the boil on the stove. Meanwhile, in the middle of the room, Claire and James were mixing what seemed to be flour and milk in a big bowl. To Jane's right, Steve and Emma were splicing what looked like pieces of vanilla on a chopping board. And finally Jerome, the office manager, was standing back, supervising the whole business, observing critically with his arms folded.

'What on earth are you lot all doing?" Jane erupted, a look of bemused incredulity on her face.
'We're making blancmange' replied Jen enthusiastically. 'What kept you?'
'Making blancmange? What on earth for?!'
'We got a memo from head office about it this morning - they want us to make as much of this stuff as we can by the end of the week.'
'I've already sent for more supplies,' interjected Jerome without a trace of irony.
'You're having me on?'
'Not at all. Go and check your emails if you like. Would you mind giving Claire and James a hand with the mixing?'
'But why? What's this got to do with selling office stationery?' asked Jane, shaking her head in disbelief.
'Beats me,' Jerome responded. 'But as long as they go paying us for it, I don't really care.'
'Is this a wind-up, Jerome?'
'Well, it did occur to me to give HQ a call to make sure that someone wasn't having a laugh, but no, that's our orders. Ours is not to reason why, as they say. We're on group commission for how much of this stuff we can make, so you'd better get stuck in.'

Jane did as she was told. The world was becoming more surreal by the minute. What surprised her most was the speed and willingness at which the others were getting down to the job! No questions asked. Perhaps they'd covered that ground before she got there.

'How was the weekend?' Emma asked. 'Get up to much?'
'Erm...did a bit of cooking,' Jane replied, one eyebrow raised.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


we have been invited to a halloween party
at the house of one of woodle's new school friends
as the afternoon light fades
we enjoy carving a pumpkinhead lantern with a leering smile
then it's time for h to dress up as her current craze:
mildred hubble - 'the worst witch' in the school
i say she should dress up as a scary guinea pig
(h's much-wanted pet
which she currently insists on emulating by constant nose-twitching
but remember: 'a guinea pig is for life, not for christmas')
at the party the house is full of kids
schoolfriends of the girls
plus the families of some of dad's university colleagues
i am unfortunately rationed to one bottle of bishop's finger as i'm driving
i sip it slowly
mrs f gets embroiled in conversation
with the gregarious irish granny of two of the kids
over from dublin for a short stay
i get chatting to a bright and affable german linguist who was recently in korea
he fills in some of my many gaps about german history
occasionally pulling out his eye-phone to check his facts
woodle's classmate's dad and pals all work in the political science department
sounds like it should be quite radical
i ask them what exactly political science is
but am not much the wiser after the explanation
what about chomsky, i say
does he feature much in their courses?
i get a tepid response
academically he's best known as a linguist, isn't he?
doesn't he make normative judgements on us foreign policy?
guess i should have known better
the kids have strayed upstairs and are doing moonies at each other
it must be time to go
school day tomorrow
so we head home
through the haunted night

Monday, 1 November 2010


I saw a tiny insect
Struggling in the meniscus
Its delicate wings fluttering
Its body weak and listless

Bound by surface tension
Fighting for its existence
Its energies diminishing
Trapped in the meniscus

I felt a surge of kindness
An urge to end the suffering
Of this tiny helpless creature
From me so very different

So I gently tipped the vessel
And drained the liquid from it
And as the creature struggled free
It made me weep to see it

I watched a tiny insect
Struggling in the meniscus