Sunday, 31 January 2010


The end, as they say, is nigh.

Hopefully not very nigh, but, eventually, nigh it will be.

That bothers me. I would be stupid if it didn't.

Of course, most people don't know when the end will come. Stray buses,
badly-earthed wires, lightning, there are many ways to shuffle off this mortal coil without actually noticing.

That's slightly attractive, because what bothers me is not the aftermath (being an atheist, there's no reason for me to be bothered about any post-corporeal consequences). What bothers me is knowing. Seeing it coming more than a few seconds in advance.

I do not look forward to having thoughts of mortality forced upon me for any length of time, say with illness or encroaching age. I expect to end up (if I keep my faculties) in some sort of state of mild, but permanent, panic.

It's bad enough now, when the thought of The End crosses my mind (as it does, when events remind me of my mortality, such as friends losing relatives, or I have a close call myself), to consider a world without me in it. The mental picture doesn't work. The best that I can do is to think of a me-less world in which I am some sort of powerless observer, like a television viewer with no remote.

It is easy to see, at times like that, where the idea of life continuing after death came from. It's just so much easier to go into denial and delude yourself into thinking that dying is just a temporary inconvenience, then you just carry on as before, just a it more ethereal.

But, in these modern days, there arre extra things to worry about.

When I die, my family and friends will know. They will grieve (hopefully), but they will go on and remember me with affection.

But what about you, dear reader?

There are hundreds, possibly thousands of people who know I exist through other websites, particularly Instructables. Pardon my ego, but I'd like to think they like my work, and would miss me when I'm gone. But, if I die, how would they know?

If you are in the habit of checking my stuff (or anybody else on the web) every few days or weeks, how long would it take you to notice I had stopped posting? How long would you keep checking before deciding I wasn't going to post again? Would you even consider the possibility that something was more seriously wrong than a laxness on my part?

And, maybe, you are reading this for the first time. Browsing the bloggosphere, you have only just happened upon this rather morbid post. Am I, to you, dead, alive, or maybe even neither? Am I inhabiting a timeless limbo?

I tell people who ask me; When I die, all that will remain of me will be the memories held by those that knew me. Does this count as a memory? And whose memory? Post-mortem readers did not know me. Do you remember me by reading this?

Is this, then, the afterlife I have never believed in?

Saturday, 30 January 2010


I approve of alcohol. Beer was a major step forward in human civilisation.

What I disapprove of is the mass production and mass consumption of poor-quality alcohol.

Ale, made with care and natural ingredients, is an art form.

The simple melding of hops, malt, water and yeast produces beers as diverse in nature as humanity itself. Dark, bitter, light, hoppy. Beers to quaff, beers to sip and savour.

A true beer, an ale with soul and character is a Maker's drink. As much black art as science, a decent beer is a genuine pleasure to drink, as much for the aroma, flavour, and even the feel in the mouth.

Mass produced beers, though, chemical-raddled lagers, over-chilled, carbonated "smooth" beers, are poison to the palette, sins against the sacred hop.

Proper beers are not intended to get you drunk (although they can - I've had a couple of very nice beers at 10% or more). You drink a bottle or two, savour it, and have a very pleasant evening. You try new beers from trusted brewers, or recommended by a friend with a discerning palette. Their flavours and nuances can be compared and discussed.

The dross, though. The ice-cold lagers, the alcopops, the two-for-one shots are not there to be enjoyed for their own sake. They are churned out, cheaply, by the bucket-load. No care, no soul, just lab-coats and QC technicians. As soon as alcohol is taxed according to the %vol, rather than by the type, the sooner we can be rid of the foul corporate crud doled out in mass-market off-licenses and burger-pub-chains.

They are there just to get people drunk, people without the imagination to look beyond "get bladdered and fall down" as a form of entertainment. I know, I've been there.

Manufactured without art, drunk without skill.

Yes, I am a beer snob.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010


Mornings are... zombie time.

Children sit and stare blankly until filled with cereal and chased to get washed and dressed. Adults stumble around, muttering, snatching food whilst ironing and putting packed lunches together.

Around 07:30, everybody is awake enough be trusted behind the wheel. The family parts, to schools and to childminders.

Sometime between home and school, spinning mental gears catch, and you notice you are in the car...

...the working day happens...

Home again.

Meals happen. Conversations happen. TV happens. Hobbies happen. Cubs, Scouts, Hip-Hop dance classes happen.

Children go to bed, reading happens.

Adults have calm time, TV time, internet time.

Bed happens.

The alarm goes off...

Friday, 22 January 2010


Officially, I disapprove of bad language.

Swearing, cursing, blaspheming. It annoys me when other people use it, and it annoys me when I find myself using it.

Why? Because swearing is, to me, a failure of self.

It means you have reached a point where you are experiencing something which you cannot articulate - you have gone beyond the limits of your vocabulary, and landed in the midst of expletives.

I am an intelligent man, and proud of my linguistic skills. Swearing dents that pride.

That does not mean I do not swear. I swore when I found out my Grandmother's cancer was terminal. I swore when I accidentally shot a methanol cannon inside my shed. I swore when I found out my school's closure was certain, and I swore, quite loudly, when I was mid-air in my Mini.

But, notice please, I know when I swear. There are other occasions, naturally, but I am aware of them all (though my unreliable memory means many will stay lost in history).

Many people do not know when they are swearing. I know people whose casual speech contains at least one profanity for every two or three "normal" words, especially when relating stories and events.

There are times, though when swearing has a knowing function. When the language of the gutter serves a higher purpose.

The harsh, angularity of taboo phrases makes them stand out of normal speech, gives them a weight beyond mere letters. Carefully-selected profanity can be a precision tool.

My father, who was a church elder, once found himself giving a sermon when his church lacked a permanent minister. At the time, a famine was fading from the headlines, even though there was not enough being done to help the victims.

My father stood up in the pulpit, and addressed the congregation;
"Every day, around the world, hundreds, thousands of children starve to death, and you lot just don't give a FUCK!

"What's even worse is the fact that you are sitting there now, more shocked at my language than at countless, needless deaths."

He went on to harangue the congregation about the distorted priorities of modern, middle-class theists, more concerned about being seen to be doing things the right way than about doing the right thing.

His sermon worked, it was memorable, and galvanised that church into some much-needed self-evaluation.

But it wouldn't work every time. A curse a week would quickly result in the congregation checking their watches, wondering when he's going to get it out of his system. It would lose its impact, which is exactly what happens with the casual user.

That begs a question - what do you say in those moments where normal language fails the civilised speaker? What words remain that possess the impact of a few choice Anglo-Saxon monosyllables?

I'm buggered if I know...

Monday, 11 January 2010


How many school kids complain about their uniform?

"I want to be an individual!" they proclaim.


Look around you. Humans need to belong to groups. They need to be identified as part of that group, even if they are not with that group.

Look at the football terraces, seas of red, green, yellow, checks. Watch the supporters walking to the match, nodding and smiling at strangers who wear the same colours, frowning at the other group.

Look at a school on a "non uniform" day. Look at the groups of kids, all keen to express their individuality by dressing exactly like their friends, or like those they want to be friends with, of those they want to be like.

The girls all wearing the same skinny jeans and lumpy bangles from the same fashion chain.

The boys all wearing the Animal hoodies.

Jocks, cheerleaders, geeks, nerds, emos, punks, rockers, mods, new romantics - they all have their own uniforms.

They may want to be unique, but they need to belong, and they only have one way to show it.

And if they turn up in the "wrong" outfit, suddenly they don't belong. Suddenly they are unique, but unique in a school means outsider.

So, a school that wants to be a community, with all its pupils belonging, needs a uniform.

Nothing complex, nothing uncomfortable, nothing strange, just uniform.

Uniforms are also great levellers - it brings down the snobs, it lifts up those who cannot afford cutting-edge fashion.

In the long-run, uniforms are good for the environment as well.

Somebody expected to wear a uniform needs to own fewer clothes, so fewer clothes need to be made.

Some of the money that would be wasted on soon-to-be-discarded fashion items gets spent on uniform that is used to its full extent, worn 'til it can be worn no more, then passed on to younger siblings. The rest can be spent on more important things - food, shelter, the latest Seasick Steve CD...

Kids may not want to wear a uniform, but they need to. It's good for them.