Write Time, Wrong Energies or: Why I’m Running Away from Depressing Politics and Going to Play in Alternate Realities with a Zebra-Technoshaman and Other Possibly Fictional Friends…

Hey! Hey hey! It’s been quiet around here. Too quiet. Then again, sometimes quiet is good. In the quiet you can hear things that you rarely ever perceive: the flap of moth wings; the secret song of the solar winds; the prolonged death howls of Hope as the Heartless Heptagon Clan slowly destroy her in their tantric torture chambers far away beneath the cold, further canyons of Forever. Y’know: all the cult sounds you’d stick in the ‘Ultimate Me-Time Moop-A-Doop Mixtape Vol. 3’ playlist if they were on Spotify.

Me? In the quiet I can hear my mind working (or, indeed, not working) and lately it’s been running hot. It’s been raging and raring to write stuff, but not much stuff has been written and shared on the interwebs in recent months (in stark contrast to past times where I’d be pumping stuff out every single day and then some). I can tell you why, though, and I have good – well, reasonable enough – reasons.

First, in practical terms, travel and intensive work spells aren’t necessarily conducive to writing productivity. You can always make time to write but I poured my energies into enjoying my travels and summer school teaching as priorities when those things were going on. (Some writing still happened though. For instance, while at summer school I wrote a fantastical role-play experience/social experiment/intellectual ordeal for twenty students. It had them journeying around London (without physically leaving the classroom), solving a series of puzzles and – at the climax – looking for secret instructions in Iron Maiden lyrics then defeating the Devil himself in the Tower of London to reclaim a stolen diary that could potentially start World War III/upset several lovestruck teenage boys. It was a lot of fun.)

Energy is a key word, and it brings me to the second and main reason why there’s been a lack of writing action. That reason: the energies were all wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. The Zebra-Technoshaman just stuck its head out of the monitor and confirmed that, yes and truly, the energies were all wrong so take that as a verified fact.

(Note: I had a moment of doubt there because when the Zebra-Technoshaman surfaced it said “Right!” to which I replied “Right? No, wrong! The energies were wrong!” Zebra-Technoshaman then whistled and said “Oh, no friend, I meant “You’re right to say the energies were all wrong! I was agreeing with you! Definitely yes, the energies were wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!” I smiled and winked at it, “Got you, friend! Thanks for confirming my belief!” and then it whistled, grinned with all its eyes, pixellated and dissolved. The path to true understanding is plain if you persevere through the sometimes confusing speech of the Zebro-Technoshaman. I mean, it doesn’t help that the thing has fifty-five tongues.)

The energies were wrong because my thoughts were bent towards – and itching to write about – politics and current affairs. Oh, did you hear that? That was the sound of Hope screaming “AWWW NO! JUST DON’T GO THERE!” and punctuating it with the most obscene oaths that the Universe has ever known. The Heartless Heptagons were so surprised they stopped torturing her for precisely six seconds before returning to their tantric torturecraft (Phase 48,231: Christmas Tinsel-Clad Caterpillars in All-Remaining Orifices).

*agrees and refuses to accept this 'reality'...*

*agrees and refuses to accept this ‘reality’…*

Politics is a bad place to go. Politics has been even more unbearably potent (pungent?) of late and it’s causing me much dismay and despair. “The political is personal” and I take things very personally. Sometimes I take things very, very personally on behalf of myself and other people when grotesque political abominations occur. In the midst of a constant churn of bad stuff (wars, human rights abuses, corporate evils, institutionalised and ingrained -isms of various flavours, Donald Trump), Brexit is like a cluster-bomb of grotesque political abominations all rolled into one. It’s proving to be a giant, possibly bottomless can of radon-worms and the toxic fallout is terrifying. It’s everywhere and I’ve been trying to grapple with it (on top of most of the other stuff happening in the wider world) for the past few months.

I recommend writing as a cathartic exercise but in the case of political crises I find that other methods are more soothing and possibly more effective. For example, I feel better after shouting at TV screens for a few minutes or after rudely gesturing at a garage in my neighbourhood that’s been stencil-stamped with the word ‘BREXIT’. (Appropriately labelled because, like Brexit, we don’t know what the thing actually contains if anything at all. I’m guessing some second-rate powertools, a broken hoover and a fridge freezer full of white bread, crinkly chips and swan corpses). I would not feel better (and I wouldn’t have felt better) if I’d spent ages hammering a keyboard and pushing political posts out onto my small corner of the internet. And those who occasionally pass by my small corner of the internet wouldn’t feel better either.

I’m aware that when I write about what’s conventionally figured as ‘reality’, I tend to melt into a mess of emotions and earnest incredulity. I lose any sense of Zen flow and, in a state of apoplexy, end up soapboxing (and soapboxing shadows or, indeed, myself). I get angry and upset and any words I summon up – for what they’re worth – are irrelevant because I have no control or influence on political affairs. (I’m not an eminent journalist, public persona, expert, community leader or saviour of the human race. I’m just another human being armed with a laptop and opinions.) They’re even more irrelevant because things have been moving so fast in UK politics. They’re also even more irrelevant because I know that, if anyone does read my angsty essays/exorcisms they’re probably Facebook friends or Twitter followers and of a like mind. I don’t want to preach, and if I am preaching there’s little point in preaching to the converted. (No, I’m not going kickstart the ‘Utopian Space Missionary Plan’ yet. That project is pencilled in for 2265 and depends on certain technological advancements. I’ll let you know.)

In conclusion – because writing about politics is making me feel nauseous – I haven’t been writing about the stuff on my mind because the stuff on my mind shouldn’t be written about by me. Every blogpost would be a spluttering gloopshoot that could be summarised like so: “What the hell is wrong with people?! I don’t understand?! Why can’t people just be compassionate and level-headed! Look at what this Guardian article says! Here are some more Guardian articles written by people who can articulate and encapsulate everything far better than I can. I recommend you read them and, in the meantime, gah! What the hell?!” And all the while I’ll be looking like Charlton Heston at the end of Planet of the Apes, except I’m eyeballing what’s left of Big Ben and all the apes have been shot and turned into internet memes in order to promote that rare sensation, ‘Empathy’. Awww, damn you. Damn you all to hell.

Wretched hive of scum and villainy...

The author, in a wretched hive of scum and villainy…

Over the past few months I’ve also thought about getting back on the blog-trail to write about an array of other things but, yeah, that wouldn’t be a good idea either. (I can hear Hope screeching in horror again at the mere mention of it.) Mood whiplash and dissonance are likelihoods. (“This week I watched a fun blockbuster flick, read a vintage Japanese novel about morality, found a crumpet that’d turned into a mould-demon in the bread bin and here’s a link to a very upsetting photo-essay from the streets of Aleppo.“) Furthermore, what would be the point? Personal blogging is dead (possibly in the freezer next to the swan corpses) and Twitter now covers those ‘I’ll give the internet a piece of my mind!’ urges in real-time with emojis and easily-searchable hashtags. (Note: specialised blogging – like travel blogging, food and cookery blogging and Utopian Space Missionary Plan blogging – isn’t dead.)

I’m alienated from Twitter and I’d alienate myself and everyone else if I went on further self-indulgent, narcissistic rambles through my imminent reality for very little purpose. I like creating annotated photo albums on Facebook to keep track of what I’ve done and where I’ve been and to share with people who I actually know, in case they’re interested. That’s more than enough for me (and for everyone else), thanks, and I’d rather devote my energies to sharing in private conversations (ideally face-to-face, though videocalling and messaging will do) or actually living life rather than chronicling life (the sublime and the asinine) in excessive detail on a blog for the benefit of very few people. That’s one of the reasons I backed away from Twitter and that’s why I haven’t followed up those impulses to express myself in personal blogging.

So, where does that leave me with regards to writing? Well, I’ve re-realised that what I really, really like doing is writing about things that are not ‘reality’. Having had my head stuck in ‘real world affairs’ too much this year, I’ve remembered that fiction is where the fun and, indeed, the truth is. (Even more so in this era of ‘Post-Truth Politics’.) This is where my energies should be, and I’m channelling those creative energies towards fantasy, alternate realities and other worlds formed in my imagination. And also, possibly, the Utopian Space Missionary Plan because that’s just speculative fiction at the present moment.

Whether any of it ends up on the internet (on this site or another) remains a mystery. Tomorrow I’m moving away to Italy on a longer-term basis and the practicalities of pumping my creative action into cyberspace are heavily dependent on how I settle in to a new work schedule and, indeed, settle in to a new home. Regardless, though, I will be writing at least a little stuff and I can guarantee that it will be powered by the right energies and of a fictional nature. It may be that no one else sees any of it but, hey, it’s writing all the same and I’m having fun if I’m writing. I will also, of course, be doodling in my free time and you can continue to see my sketches on Instagram, on the Jamazing Things Facebook page or on this Tumblr blog if you want to see my miniature doodles in close-up.

And now my energies are directing me towards packing some bags. And the Zebra-Technoshaman coalesced into neon-stripey coherency and whistled me towards the righteous and sensible path. Aww, Zebra-Technoshaman my friend: we’re so on the same wavelength. Until next time or whatever, keep your head up above that which would drag you down and drown you and take care. Thanks for reading, and be excellent.

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The Right Write Stuff: Blog Action Happening In a Cyberspace that is Not Here…

Alrighty! Write on! I’ve decided that I’d like to do something that’s a bit like blogging. I’ve also decided that this website isn’t the best place to do it and I though that the flowing, more fluid nature of Tumblr would be a better fit for my meanderings. Thusly, I’m going to put my blog updates and general musings on my freshly-spruced up Tumblr site alongside my doodles. Please feel free to head over in that direction where I’ll be sharing my experiences, ideas, opinions and avant-garde oddities of various shades and flavours (gluten-free options available)…

The first blogpost has cuttlefish disco lights and A Touch of Zen. I hope you enjoy it and thanks for reading…

Winter of Post-Discontent, or: How I Learned to Stop Griping and Just Chill with the Killer Chill…

IMG_0704

Into the winter wonderland woods…

Oh, snow way! Yes way. Everything went white and the temperature turned subzero. Winter came and my neighbourhood transformed into something resembling Narnia or an Ice King freakout. It’s really, really cold. Even prior to the snowfall it’d been nippy and, to be honest, pretty glum weather-wise most of the time (you probably know what they say about rain and Manchester). It’s winter, so all the green things are dead and now all those dead plants are symbolically buried beneath several inches of snow.

I tend to associate winter with death. I’m a summer sun child, somewhat afflicted by SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and I’m uncomfortable if the temperature dips below 15°c. I’m charged by solar energy and I feel best when I’m wearing only one layer of clothing. My natural temperament is entirely at odds with the winter and, to put it simply, winter kind of kills my buzz. (And in the UK, if winter takes up roughly 2/3rds of the year, then I’m at odds with the season most of the time when I’m here.)

Thus, musing on death happens more often in the bleak midwinter. All the trees are dead. All the flowers are dead. By 4.30pm daylight is dead. All my summer spirit is dead (or, at least, it’s ebbed away). And what’s more, in the real world, great famous people keep on dying and the news reads as a list of obituary notices and posthumous tributes. There is much mourning. It’s dark and cold. Chilly shivers course through my marrow, and then I go to the movies to watch dark, violent films about people dying in unforgiving winter conditions (The Revenant and The Hateful Eight).

And then I take all of this death, darkness and dreariness and I dash out into the snow, slide around a bit and say to myself “Hey, you morbid drippy bitch! Smile! You’re alive and life is beautiful!” And I am smiling and I am alive and life is beautiful (it always is, in spite of it all). Good news! Somewhere along the way I seem to have found a way to co-exist with winter and reconfigure the whole experience as something that’s actually pretty cool (cool as in ‘good’ good and not ‘mildly cold’). Somehow I managed to significantly downgrade my level of SAD and I did it without resorting to indoor hibernation and death by tea, heavy metal and hot water bottle burns (my usual survival remedies for the season).

I’m not sure how this happened, and all I can conclude is that I just acquired a more enlightened and upbeat attitude. I also probably got bored of being freaking hostile to forces far beyond my control (keeping up constant bitterness and antagonism is wearying, y’know). Winter has to happen so I may as well just accept it and enjoy it as best as I can. I operate in this fashion in the summer months – soaking up as much sun as possible while others hide in the shade because I know that the heat of the moment will pass. Winter shall also pass and the cold won’t linger forever (this isn’t Narnia or Hoth). Neither will the fleeting flakes of winter magic that I’ve noticed when I’m not too busy muttering: “Damn, it’s too bloody cold!

Simple pleasures like knitwear, hot showers and steaming teapots after a day out in the cold make winter alright. I’ve also found tremendous beauty in the season this past week. Those aforementioned films showed me humans (and horses) suffering in extreme winter conditions, but they also reminded me – through film artistry and the language of cinema – just how beautiful winter can be. Winter isn’t a war on nature or on me or the pretty precious little flowers and suchlike – it’s a part of the grand cycle of life and has a wonder of its own.

(I apologise for turning into Captain Obvious here. Try and appreciate that this is written by an over-sensitive, simple soul with poor circulation and he’s only recently come out of the cave and cast off his snow-blinds. You may take this stuff for granted but, for me, it’s a psychological breakthrough and personal psychological breakthroughs deserve a “woohoo!“)

Yonder lies Manchester at the break of dawn...

Yonder lies Manchester at the break of dawn…

When I emerged from the cinema having watched The Hateful Eight this weekend, I discovered that light snow was falling. Frost had been on the ground when I entered but now little floaty motes of white were lighting up the early evening dark. It felt a bit magical, and I wandered around Manchester city centre marvelling at the sight, well-aware that I’m about to leave this place for few months. I stuck my tongue out to catch snowdrops. I idled around in neon-lit Chinatown a while, just watching snow fall on the Chinese Arch. Then I got on a train home and, arriving in my neighbourhood, found that the Saturday snow was even thicker up here.

Sunday morning it was thicker still. I woke before dawn and went out on a trek through white stuff at sunrise just to appreciate the winter wonderland that had occurred. I made my way to a vantage point and gazed across the landscape, from Winter Hill right across to the redlights atop Beetham Tower. It struck me that Greater Manchester and the moors of Lancashire in my relative backyard have never looked so beautiful to me. I felt connected to my homeland, and that was the work of winter.

Walking onward, the world woke up and I started encountering people – some walking excitable dogs, some clearing driveways and de-icing cars while kids built snowmen and played around with sledges. Little birds bounced around the frosty branches overhanging the footpaths and all the familiar roads looked so picturesque and clean coated with snow. So much for death and dreariness – there’s life, energy and pleasure in winter.

I’ve made peace with the season and had a profound moment the past week that helps me appreciate home all the more before I head off to foreign climes (and those climes aren’t much warmer than Northern England right now). I’m now going to head out for a walk in the snow and enjoy it while I still can. The moral of this winter’s tale, then? Acceptance; living in the moment; appreciation of natural magic and the beauty in all things; opening your mind and venturing outside of your comfort zones (though be sure that you have a hot shower and a cup of tea ready for the aftermath.)

Brrrrr, it’s so pretty…

There's Winter Hill in, erm, winter...

There’s Winter Hill in, erm, winter…

2016: Rock On into the New Year…

Hey Sweet 2016! Happy New Year! #2016 #HappyNewYear

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2016! Hey! Happy New Year! It’s the future, now, and we’re here in a brave new age and it’s the Year of Beans and the second coming of Shakespeare! (He’s been quiet for 400 years. It’s the right time for a comeback.) 2016 is fresh and exciting and so far it looks like this…

I came here to rock 'n' roll...

Yeah, I came here to rock ‘n’ roll…

I intend to keep that spirit up throughout the year and rock out and rock on in 2016. ‘Less Talk, More Rock‘ is a pretty good mantra and its essential meaning is “Go! Do stuff! Action! Enjoy!“.  Too right, and right now I’m gung-ho for action and doing stuff. There was a lot of action in 2015, and I’d like to keep momentum moving and make 2016 even more exciting. I like life better when I’m busy and either creating or having adventures so here’s to a lot of creation, hard work and adventuring over the next twelve months. I start as I mean to go on, and here’s a little thing I doodled yesterday…

A little New Year comic for you if you're fishing for resolutions…

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That’s for anybody who’s fretting about New Year’s Resolutions. I figure it’s probably better to just try and be the best human being that you can be instead of making a long laundry list of self-loathing and self-mortification. (*aside, looks the reader directly in the eye with a hypnotic enlightened gaze* Cast aside your anxiety and know that you’re good and that I believe in you. High-fives to you, Champ.) As such, I don’t have hard-and-fast resolutions but I do have (good) intentions steered by wide-open mantras and principles that transcend specific units of time: do stuff; work hard; have fun; be positive; keep on pushing for progress; live life. Things like that, used as guiding lights and squeezed into adjustable, tangible real-world targets when they’re required as circumstances demand. (I’m an idealist, but I know that you need to have goals to actually achieve things. What I’m saying is that setting up a mountain of promises at the start of the year is overwhelming and potentially self-defeating.)

So, yes, that’s the spirit to start my 2016 and power it on. You can see the arty things that manifest out of that spirit on my Instagram feed or on my Facebook page. Otherwise, writing and occasional blog updates will surface on this site as I throw myself heart-and-soul into various things. That’s enough talk for now: I’m going to go and rock some stuff.

Here’s to 2016 and Happy New Year to anyone reading. Go forth, have a good ‘un and be brilliant…

2015: A Brief Blast Back Through the Year Fantastical…

2015: thanks and ta-ra to the Year Fantastic…

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2015! Whoa! Yeah, that happened. Way back on New Year’s Day I doodled up a unicorn and, with a hopeful spirit, hailed 2015 as the ‘Year Fantastical’. Turns out that it lived up to that title and then some. From my perspective, it’s been a pretty damn fantastic and quite incredible year.

So much happened in 2015 and I feel like I’ve done a lot, experienced a lot and learned a lot. Come the end point where we get all reflective and retrospective (it’s customary and inevitable) I’m struck by how ‘big’ and full of stuff this year seems. I’ve got so many memories of moments streaming through my mind and from all of them flow a multitude of thoughts and feelings. Some people say that I think and feel too much (tsk and hush, you people!) but, hey, I can be no other way. Plus, thinking and feeling are what make us human beings and what make us realise that we’re alive. The alternative is living on autopilot and if you’re living on autopilot you’re probably not engaging with life and consciously appreciating it. Hey! Life! Existence! Appreciate it!

So then, here I am thinking and feeling over 2015 and appreciating it before we say ta-ra. It’s been a year in which I thought and felt a lot. I smiled a lot. I cried a lot. (It was the death of Spock, the Norwegian Eurovision entry and Inside Out) I had triumphs and I also had some disappointments, but the good stuff far outweighs the bad bits. I’ll focus on the good in this brief personal look-back, ’cause there’s no point me dwelling on the crappy and/or grave bits here. (Though I will give a shout-out to several late, great cultural icons and my all-time favourite t-shirt which is lost somewhere in Italy. *sighs* I miss ’em all.)

Off the top of my head, here are some of the things I did and experienced that made 2015 genuinely awesome (as in they inspired awe and made me go “awwww!” or “awwww yeah!“): I got a tattoo; I levelled up as an English teacher by passing a CELTA course; I got to explore Dublin and Zürich among several other culture vulture trips; I took a train ride through the Swiss Alps; I saw what’s left of the Magna Carta; I got to enjoy la dolce vita over and over in bella Italia in places familiar and new (including Verona, Padova, Venice, hitherto unexplored sections of the Liguria coast and Emilia-Romagna to name a few); I went to the opera and enjoyed that experience in Verona’s ancient Roman arena; I became a hero to a whole new set of Italian children in Milano, Torino and the countryside near Padova; I composed the summer hit single that was ‘Pineapple Hands‘ and that became a minor cult phenomenon; I gave ‘Free Hugs’ on Valentine’s Day in the world’s most beautiful shopping arcade; I witnessed Italy’s biggest food fight – the all-out insanity that is Ivrea’s Battle of the Oranges.

I like this photo as an image to encapsulate the beauty, adventure and feeling of 2015...

Yeah, this photo sort of encapsulates the feeling and adventure flowing through 2015…

Throughout, I doodled like a demon and have spent most of the year with inky fingers. I also wrote some pretty good stuff and had a lot of fun working away at various creative projects. Daredevil , WiiU videogames and hanging with my family made home downtime a good time when I wasn’t off on (mis)adventures. Otherwise – turning to ‘important stuff’ and current affairs for a second – in spite of it all, there were progressive political and social moments in 2015 that gave me hope. The same goes for technology and science (there’s water on Mars!) and, sportswise,  I’ve been enjoying the Boston Celtics’ continued upward trajectory towards contender status.

Sonically speaking, my soundtrack to 2015 was mostly Dinosaur Pile-Up and Ghost and they gave me immense live shows to experience and brilliant new albums to crank to death. As for films, there have been so many superb movies released this year but my two favourites of 2015 were Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road. They beat all the rest for spiritual reasons, sentimental reasons and because they are stand-out supreme imaginative visions and masterpieces of cinematic storytelling.

I decided to close the year in suitable style by watching The Force Awakens again and that makes me even happier as I head into the future. Having had my nice nostalgia moment I’m now going to close this self-indulgent rear-view-mirror ramble. First though, before I hurl myself heart and soul into 2016, I’d like to hail all the human beings who shared the experiences and really made 2015 something special. I had a blast with both old friends and new friends this year and I’m grateful for all the energy, the companionship, the generosity and the niceness that people have directed my way over the past twelve months. It means a lot and I truly appreciate it. High-fives, hugs and ‘awww yeah!’s to everyone.

So, that was 2015 then, and thank you 2015. I say it’s high time we hit the New Year and moved on to the fresh adventures and experiences lying ahead in 2016. Awww yeah. I’m excited…

Heart…

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Four Things I Learned on a Four Week Course to Become a Better English Teacher…

Remember when Antarctic explorer Lawrence ‘Titus’ Oates said “I am just going outside and may be some time” and didn’t come back? Well, I said similar things around a month-and-a-half ago but, hey! I came back!

(Note: I’ve got doubts about Titus Oates’ death. They never found his body. Personally, I like to believe that Oates encountered Shoggoths outside and that they took him to the resting vaults of the Elder Things. There he discovered incredible extraterrestrial technology which he used to increase his longevity and radically alter his physical form. Neo-Oates is now 135-years-young and reigns over a subterranean krill kingdom beneath the South Pole. He will eventually come back – supported by his devout crustacean subjects – and you will know him by the whistling of his gills. Yes. Absolutely.)

Way back just a shade over a month-and-a-half ago I shut everything down and stepped outside because I had a mission. That mission: go through an intensive course to gain a CELTA qualification. Progress through and successfully pass a CELTA course and you acquire special skills and fresh status as an especially qualified, quite-excellent Teacher of English as a Foreign Language. I can break that down into an appealing, easy-to-understand 16-bit format: CELTA is like the power-up Super Leaf that transforms you from regular Mario to Tanooki-Suit Super Mario. Then you have a funky weaponised tail and the power to fly and with that ability you can reach the secret bonus areas hidden in the clouds and the roofs of the haunted castles of the Mushroom Kingdom.

In total, it was an intense month of giddily bouncing about on a quest to become a better teacher and sometimes it felt like Super Mario Bros. 3. (It was nothing like Super Mario Bros. 3. but I wanted to drag out the crap analogy for cohesion. Yeah, that wasn’t great. One thing I’m better at thanks to the course is necessary self-evaluation and I acknowledge that crap analogies are a weakness and I will strive to improve in this area.) I learned a lot about teaching English and mastered double-sided photocopying but I’m not going to regurgitate it all here. Instead, I’m putting down four particularly significant things I (re)learned over the four weeks for posterity. 1-2-3-4! Let’s go…

I really like full classes and I love teaching in a classroom possessed by the spirit of Professor Brian Cox... *awestruck smile...*

I really like full classes and I love teaching in a classroom possessed by the spirit of Professor Brian Cox… *awestruck smile…*

#1. Teaching is brilliant

I love teaching. Getting back to teaching action and returning to the classroom re-affirmed this and reminded me that I’m pretty good at it and have a lot of fun doing it. Give me a chance to craft lesson plans, create extra materials and assault a whiteboard and I will go all out and be a happy guy. What’s more, the other people in the room will have an engaging, stimulating experience and may even learn something. (I’ve failed if they don’t.)

To be involved in learning, to share knowledge and to actively play a role in other human beings’ developments is a beautiful thing and a privilege. Teaching is hard work, but it’s enjoyable and rewarding. Teaching a language is even more rewarding because you’re helping people to communicate, enhance a whole set of practical skills and potentially bridging cultural gaps (among many other things). I had a good time with the international ensemble of students during my teaching practice sessions and I’m psyched to get back teaching real students again as soon as possible. (Self-promo-moment: “I can help you with your English, whatever your needs are! For personalised assistance and tuition from a qualified and experienced mother tongue speaker, call now!” *thumbs up, cheesy smile*.)

I'm all about pizza and grammar lessons...

I’m all about pizza and grammar lessons…

#2. The English language is brilliant

The English language is rich, beautiful and endlessly fascinating. It is vast, dynamic and it can be played with and creatively handled to infinite ends. I knew that, but over the past few months I’ve been getting down to the nitty gritty and focusing on the fundamental mechanics of the language – not the fancy stuff I can do with all these words, words, words. I’m talking grammar, guys, and grammar is groovy. (*struts and clicks fingers at the beat of the drop of that full stop*)

I’ve been expanding my language awareness and will continue to study this stuff because it’s important and actually really interesting. It may be that I’m a bit affected after a lot of hardcore study. I mean, it’s been an intense period and there were moments where – deep in the cut-and-thrust of lesson planning – I started getting very (too) excited about pure modals, collocations and the Second Conditional. I realised that things were getting serious during a ‘conversation’ with a relative in which my contribution to the dialogue was nothing more than “Y’know, it’s interesting that you’re using the First and Second Conditional a lot.” And then there was another time – once upon a daydream – where I was musing on word classes and became aware that the word ‘adjective’ is in fact a noun. That must be a terrible identity crisis, poor thing. Imagine if your entire existence was built around the purpose of defining something that you are not and could never be. Only verbal nouns can be happy and free in this Universe, ordered as it is.

Yeah. Absolutely. But seriously, English is brilliant. I get high off studying it and have high times fighting with online dictionaries when they don’t agree with my Northern pronunciation.

It's the Zippy from Rainbow dressed as Electro-Santa Christmas market lightshow...

It’s the Zippy from Rainbow dressed as Electro-Santa Christmas market lightshow…

#3. Manchester is brilliant

By ‘eck, I love Manchester, I do. This one I didn’t really, truly know, and it sort of blindsided me. Being in Manchester city centre every day and being in a open and reflective state of mind I had a ‘seeing what was under my nose all along’ epiphany. Manchester is the best city in Britain (yes it is) and I’m happy that it’s my hood.

It’s also easier to appreciate how excellent your hometown is when you’re meeting outsiders from all corners of the globe telling you just how happy they are to be here. (Especially true of asylum seekers freshly arrived from Sudan after a month in transit.) All the foreign students I engaged with liked Manchester and it was only the weather that was a downer. In truth, it’s only bad weather and an increasingly unacceptable homeless crisis that bring Manchester down. Otherwise, Manchester is wonderful and it’s even more wonderful in the build-up to Christmas. Yay for Manchester’s Christmas markets!

I’m now resolved that, whenever the opportunity arises, I will harp on about how great Manchester is where once I was a bit indifferent and ambivalent. In brief, this place has got pretty much everything – Manchester’s an idiosyncratic mix of tradition and modernism, gothic industrialism married to shiny 21st century style. It’s gloriously cosmopolitan, is full of distinctive character and has a youthful spirit. It’s always moving forward but it knows its roots. Plus, the population are friendly, good-humoured people and the sound of the city is Northern accents. In total, eeyy-aaaah, Manchester’s aaaalriiiiight.

#4. Disconnecting from social media is brilliant

Titus Oates was never on Twitter, but when it came to starting the course I realised that it would be best to channel his spirit with regard to social media. I needed to concentrate. I needed to cut out distractions. I needed to focus on what was really important, get on with the work and devote all my energies and attention to the mission. Thus, I uninstalled all the social media apps on my phone and abstained from Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr for over a month. (I also didn’t go to the cinema and watch TV. I basically just did the course and in downtime spoke to my family and watched the news. I told you: give me something to do and I will go all-out and method actor-ish on the task.)

What did I miss? Aside from keeping in touch with distant friends and being in the loop with some news, nothing really. I also – in spite of the heavy workload and all-consuming rush of the course – felt more relaxed when I wasn’t hooked up to social media. My mind wasn’t as cluttered with trivial stuff, irritations and constant noise. I also found that I was, actually, more aware of the wider world because I was reading the news rather than reading reactions to the news (or just reading unfiltered, self-indulgent stream-of-consciousness ramblings or memes).

I had such a pleasant time being offline that I turned it into a lesson for my teaching pratice on the CELTA course (inspired by this article on a Danish study of people taking a break from Facebook). Now, having finished the course, I’m back connected and it’s good to be in touch with lovely people again but I feel a change. I intend to be less attached to these cyberspaces so I can reap the rediscovered benefits.

Those then, are things I learned and relearned on an excellent course that levelled me up as an educator, galvanished me and made me a happy Mancunian. On to the next quest… (possibly trying to find the Lost Kingdom of Neo-Oates, Lord of the Krill.)

Thoughts about Time: a Hot Mess and a Fluid Thing That May Not Be an Actual Thing…

I’m going to write about ‘Time’. (I am writing about ‘Time’. I have written about ‘Time’.) Time is a hot mess. It is, it always has been and it always will be.

Time perturbs me. It’s always all over the place, running around with knives and scissors screaming “I happened! I am happening! I am going to happen!” Really though? I’m not convinced. Time doesn’t know what is in itself and – for all the havoc it’s causing and attention that it’s trying grab – it may not even actually be a real thing.

I’ve been thinking about Time a lot lately, just as I think a lot about things that possibly aren’t real. Last night the clocks went back and we slipped into Greenwich Mean Time (and oh it is so mean, bringing Winter back again and why they Hell would I want Winter? What am I meant to do with Winter?). I was asleep so didn’t consciously experience the timeslip while my senses were engaged. How do I truly know that it happened then? How can I be completely sure that Europe dialled back an hour while I was in bed?

The clocks tell us that it’s a particular point in Time, but clocks can’t tell the Time themselves. Clocks are mechanical devices that lack sentience, except the clocks that are connected to advanced hyperintelligent supercomputers and that clock over there that has been possessed (the exorcism is scheduled for Wednesday). What if I approached a clock and re-adjusted it so that instead of, say, 08:34 it read 19:22? How about 11:11, 12:51 or 21:12?

I can have some fun playing with clocks (generally un-fun) and change the Time so that it’s a reference to a rock song but the changed Time wouldn’t be the accurate, genuine Time. Then again, what makes the Time right now the accurate, genuine Time? It was decided that last night Time would go back one hour and I still, in my ignorance, don’t have a solid grasp of who decided that or why. (To give people an extra in bed? So cow-farmers can see the udders they are pulling when they wake in the morning? So we have more excuses to jump into a spontaneous rendition of the Time Warp?)

Of course, Greenwich Mean Time is a human-made type of time tied into what is only one of a number of possible artificial calendars (others aside from the Western/Gregorian – like the Chinese, North Korean JucheMayan and Babylonian – are available and probably not fit for your imminent needs). All these calendars and notions of timezones and systems were created by people (or ancient gods). They are artificial installations, and that once again leads me to question the whole dubious notion of Time, however we conceive it or record it.

Seconds. Minutes. Hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Years. So on, so on with all these human-made units designed to mark out the immense thing (non-thing?) that is (is not?) Time. Are these units just there to provide structure and systematic shape to something that is intangible and possibly unreal? Is this just another expression of our collective neurotic need to categorise and label everything? Are we clinging so hard to this possibly-fake notion because we can’t comprehend and stand the mindblowing prospect of complete chaos and absolute freedom from regulated order? Is this just an elaborate means of trying to enforce meaning onto a Universe that may in fact be meaningless?

(more…)

Homecoming, Hailing the Best Summer and Creative Action Ahead, Ma Dai…

Allora, “kingdom of trash, came home at last“. Yeah, I’m home! Home from the latest fresh exile in Italy. It’s been four (quattro!) in total this year and I kept on going away and coming back and going away again but now I think I’m going to stay put for a bit. Though, of course, nothing is certain (everything is uncertainty) I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be based in the UK over the coming months.

So s, I’m home but home is strange after a lot of time away. It’s also hard in the winter, especially right after the highs and sunny haze of the summer. This year was the very best summer so the comedown is brutal. It’s cold! It’s wet! The Italian culture, la dolce vita, all the friends and the amped exhilaration, activity and adoration of summer camps (aww, I miss my pre-teen fans) all feel so far away…

*weeping…*

So , I’m in that strung-out post-summer state of confusion and I can’t stop saying “ma dai!“, “ma perché?!” and “non lo so!” because I have acute Italianitis. Regardless, now that I’m here and not set on flying away for a longish time again, I’m going to get on with doing stuff – namely doodling, writing and wrestling with and through other assorted forms of creative action. (Note: there will be wrestling and my ring names are alternately ‘Jamezilla’ and ‘Miss Apocalypse Sweetheart’).

I’ve been doing a lot of doodling lately, and in coming days I’ll put together a compilation blogpost collecting more lunchtime doodles from another English-language summer camp (this one from the countryside near Padova). Otherwise, watch this space – I have the wish and will to blast out a whole lot of stuff and I’ll let keep you in the loop. Please, feel free to be loopy with me…

I’ll leave it there, because the rest is just me bleating about the weather, bemoaning the absence of decent pizza and altogether turning into a quasi-Italian version of Jon Snow. (“Winter is coming… ma dai!“). For now, here’s to the home where your heart is, kicking out creative jams and, for the final time, memories of the magical summer.

Andiamo, autumn action…

Back-and-Forth, To-and-Fro: an Update Between Italia and Britannia…

H’oookaaay’aayyy! (That’s how many Italians say ‘okay’, y’know) I’m back! Yeah, just to update those interested, last week I came back again from bella Italia. Again? Yes, again. I keep on doing this thing of going to Italy and coming back to Britain only to then swiftly go back to Italy again and then it’s back and forth and to and fro and there and here for a little bit and so on, so on, per sempre. And now I’m going to tell you that I’ll be taking off back to Italy again in under three weeks time. I see a pattern here. Do you see a pattern here? I hope you’re not bored of all these ‘Sorry guys, gone to Italy’ notes. (If you are, well, sorry guys, I can’t do owt about that ’cause I’m going to Italy again.)

Whatever, for a relatively brief moment I’m here in England and it’s nice to be home in many ways but at the same time it’s not so nice in others. Do you see my sad face and pouting? Just know that there is a sad face and pouting and sometimes anguished, forlorn and teary-eyed outbursts of “ma perché?!” Leaving Italy is always a wrenching ordeal (punctuated by lots of expressive hand gesturing). I have all these feelings, guys, and the comedown can be (nay, is) sometimes brutal. Here, share in my grief pizza…

Grief Pizza: quick doodle 'cause I'm home from bella Italia after the best time ever and, aww guys, it hurts… #GriefPizza

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Ah, I miss pizza – and pizza is not about the pizza but about the people you’re eating pizza with, and I miss the people I’ve eaten pizza with. Anyway, putting my grief pizza to one side, I realise that all this to-ing and fro-ing has sorta-kinda positioned me in a constant state of flux. Right now I’m a bit of a drifter caught between two lands not knowing exactly where he’s up to or even who he really is anymore. Being back here in the summer, things don’t make sense. How can I can reconcile my Italian side and the rock-star status I have over there with my humdrum homeland state? (Rock star status from being an all-action almighty hero English teacher) I keep on thinking “Where are the children?! Where’s my fan club?!” and automatically using Italian words all over the place (and even though I’m nowhere near fluent, a lot of basic words trip off my tongue faster than English ones if I’m not thinking about things).

These are strange days I’m floating through, often in a dislocated haze. But that’s okay, because life is perpetual confusion and constantly trying to work out who you are, where you are and what this world and existence are all about (possible answers: “I am a pizza“, “I’m going through chaaaaaanges” and “don’t ask me“). In total – to try and make some kind of point before I pass on the maybe-important information – I’ll say this: there is a lot of movement and some confusion, but there is living in the moment and in the moments there is bliss and the realisation that life is living in the moment and that life is perpetual change. There’s my deep, philosophical, spiritual point.

Allora, the point I originally aimed to get in this blogblast at was this: I’m sort-of in-and-out-and-off-and-away at the moment but I am creatively juiced and regardless of where I am I’m going to be knocking stuff out (all kinds of stuff) and uploading it onto the interwebs. New projects are being spawned and they will see daylight fairly soon on all the usual channels. I’m also thinking about makeovers and upheavals and ripping-up-and-starting-agains and fresh conjurings. We will see and you will see in time…

For now, there’s a lot of doodle action happening up on Instagram and, simultaneously, on my doodle blog. In addition to that tonight – Friday 24th July, from 10pm to 1am – I’ll be making a cameo appearance comeback rocking out and sharing anecdotes on BBC Radio Lancashire’s FNAT show. The rest is all secrets and esoteric mysteries, conceived in a hot ambivalent mess of bittersweet emotions and beautiful memories. Oh, and it’s also partly fuelled by grief pizza, so I’ve got to go back and get some real pizza and share it with great, real people. That’s what I will do and the adventure carries on, so here’s to adventure, creative action and being alive…

H’oookkkaaay’aaay? Good. Bear with me, watch this space and I’ll keep you in the loop. In the meantime, take care of yourselves and each other – live in the moment as much as possible and live good… 😀

Mental Wellbeing: Being Aware and Taking Care…

Hey hey, my my! It’s Mental Health Awareness Week so I thought I thought I’d write a blogpost about mental health in hope of spreading awareness or piquing awareness. Mental health is of optimum importance and we need to be very aware of it. Too often, though, we’re unaware and don’t talk about it or even acknowledge it. There are various nebulous reasons – stigma, fear, discomfort – but the truth is we need to get beyond those reasons and consciously engage with this issue of ‘mental health’ (and its dark flipside) because minds are everything.

Truly, minds are amazing things. Everything around and everything that ever was, is and will be is an expression of and the result of mind-power so, with gratitude and appropriate awe, let’s all politely applaud mind-power. (*polite applause, somebody whistles and hollers “H’yeah! Yeee-aaah!“*) Consider the human mind and realise that it’s the unique attribute that marks us out from the rest of the animals and that has enabled us to dominate this Earth. Our brains helped us excel in the field and we turned that field into irrigated farmland and we invented wheels and language and plumbing and electricity and spaceships and all this other sophisticated, impressive stuff (and some unsophisticated, less impressive stuff though those things couldn’t have been crafted by, say, a moose so humans are still ahead thanks to the immense instrument inside their heads).

I’m thinking about the creation of whole cities, complex systems, incredible innovations and inventions, masterpieces of art. I’m also thinking of the more crucial things that our minds achieve every day – like responding to external stimuli, emotional intelligence, reasoning everything from the mundane to the marvellous, managing the human body’s communicative procedures and its actual functioning, and all the rest. Your mind may not be writing a contemporary gender-swapped Moby Dick with a non-linear narrative in Swedish at a speed of 427 words-per-minute right now, but it is telling you that putting that thing in your mouth is a terrible (potentially fatal) idea. Minds don’t have to be exceptional to be exceptional – they are cognitive, creative, rational and emotional instruments par excellence vital to our survival and our thriving as living organisms in this Universe. Hooray for our minds! (*cheering*)

Ah but here comes the ‘ah but’. (*gasps, atmospheric mood deflated, tension*) For reasons we know not why, the things that raised human beings up are also the things that bring them down, down, right down. Is it nature restoring some kind of balance? Is it the will of the Gods, keeping those hubristic humans in check? Is it some kind of cruel cosmic irony, self-sabotage encoded into the would-be Masters of the Universe? Whatever, these miracle minds that make people what they are can (and do) viciously turn on said people and mess things up for them. Minds afflicted by foggy, disturbing ideas and feelings; minds mixed up thanks to misfiring neurons and faulty connections; minds becoming dysfunctional and destabilised.

Altogether, minds are vulnerable and liable to start acting up and working against their owners as opposed to working for them and with them. This, sadly, is not a rare phenomenon. Lots of people (I’d argue every single person, in fact) are struggling with anxiety, low self-esteem, psychological disorders, mental illness or just general ‘mental wellbeing deficit’. Labels are a tricksy and problematic thing, but altogether we can put them under the same umbrella of ‘poor mental health’. (An umbrella may not be a good image to use, actually. This umbrella isn’t protecting you from the rain. In fact, the rain is coming from the inside of the umbrella and sometimes that rain is actually smoking black tar.)

Poor mental health is distressing and, potentially, devastating on both an individual and collective level. Poor mental health makes me sad. Poor mental health makes me angry. I have history with poor mental health (both my own and others’) and that’s part of the reason why it makes me so sad and angry. Thus, I’m writing this to exorcise some of that sadness and anger and have a “People! Be aware!” moment. If it helps someone, then bonus.

I know and have known too many good people who’ve suffered with mental health problems. So many wonderful human beings with so much going for them and with so much life within them and ahead of them brought down low by depression and/or by mental disorders. It’s horrible and heartbreaking to witness, especially when you end up feeling completely powerless to prevent it, fight it or improve the situation. I appreciate that I’m speaking generally and non-specifically here and that the spectrum can run from “oh dear, this low mood isn’t good” to “this disease is soul-destroying and has completely destroyed a life here“. Whatever the condition is or however intense or acute it is, the truth is the same – mental health is essential and something we need to consciously engage with and be aware of.

You may not agree with my view that we’re currently going through a global wellbeing crisis, but I think we can all agree that the line between ‘sanity and sound, stable mind’ and ‘disturbed mind’ is a very fine and fragile one. The way our modern society and culture has developed, I’d say it’s even harder to stay on the bright, right side of that line. Everywhere, I see people feeling pressured and stressed in an Age of Anxiety in which more of us (read: pretty much all of us) are feeling on edge or out-of-sorts more often. Hardwired for worry and conditioned by our culture to constantly strive to achieve impossible ideals of perfection, we’re even more vulnerable.

The good news is that we can be aware of this. The other good news is that we’re not alone when it comes to grappling with this. Every single human being on the planet (except a special few existing on an especial plane of pure enlightened cosmic consciousness) has something ‘up’ with their mind – a neurosis or irrational hang-up; a personality ‘flaw’; trouble with stress and anxiety; a psychological dysfunction; or what might be called a mental disorder, whether it be diagnosed or not.

We’ve all got to take care, of both ourselves and each other. Mental illness and the panoply of problems related to poor mental wellbeing shouldn’t be allowed to have their merry way with good people and no one should suffer alone if they can’t cope. You’re not alone, and if you by any chance do find yourself struggling I’d urge you to reach out for assistance (and it doesn’t matter what your state of mind is, whether it be ‘mildly bothered by this bleak bugger’ or extremes of ‘all of Creation is a living Hell and I am the blackest abominable spot in this roiling inferno of abject despair’.)

Charities like Mind are a good place to start, and a few clicks and entries into a search engine can get you to support and advice related to specific conditions. Otherwise, talking to friends and family (or anyone, really) is a great way to get outside your own mind if your own mind is letting you down or actively declaring war on you. If that doesn’t help or you need more support, go and see your doctor or try and secure a referral to specialist services. If they prove to be ineffective or, indeed, useless (or if the services just aren’t there) try to find seek out other support groups.

Whatever you have to do to fight the demons, to keep the black dogs at bay or to try and get better from the invisible ailments afflicting you, do it. Cling on to the good stuff and the good people that make you feel better and that help bring the light in. And of course, as a guy with a surging geekstreak, I have to encourage folk to find therapy in the things they love, and throwing yourself into creative activity (writing, art, music, crafts) and/or immersing yourself in your favourite entertainment products and hobbies can be hugely beneficial and provide emotional uplift when you’re feeling down.

Go to your happy place – or, at least, stable place – and do what works for you. Life is beautiful and it’s too precious to be wasted and drained by depression and the dark anti-energies and dim effects of mental disorders. As best as possible, with compassion in your heart and your consciousness carefully and sensitively engaged, don’t let moop, mental illness and low mental wellbeing bring you down and remember that you’re not alone (and that’s an essential thing to hold on to, because loneliness and alienation makes everything so much worse.) I repeat again, be aware and take care of yourself and others.

Here’s to better mental wellbeing and human beings with brilliant minds living happy lives… (*cheering, hugging, smiling*) 😀

 

Devastated and Confused: Soul-Searching the Day After the Election…

No. No. No. No. And throw in a few more ‘nos’ with tears, screams and profanities. Remember yesterday? I was so full of hope and optimism. Ahead of all the ballot counts and the actual post-count reality of this morning, I genuinely thought that we’d see a new government and the death of the current Conservative regime in charge. I had an inkling that maybe lovable Ed Miliband – both real-life Aardman Animations character and a nice guy who actually cares – might become Prime Minister and that better times might be ahead. I woke up to find that not only are David Cameron and his cabal still in control, but that they have more power.

That’s awful news, but even more awful is acknowledging that the people of this country have come out in force and given this gang of smiling, smug pantomime villains the greenlight. I’m devastated – devastated as in ‘like the razing of Carthage’. I am at a complete loss. What’s more, I feel that the United Kingdom is at a complete loss. It’s a sucker punch to both mind, soul and spirit and I’m an emotional wreck. Bad news is bad news and is a daily occurrence, but this? This election result has thrown me into a black pit of depression, despair, disgust and despondency. All the deadly and disastrous Ds, and it’s all because of the deadly and disastrous D who will continue to be our Prime Minister. I can think of a few more D-words to describe him and his fellow kind.

I just don’t understand. I’m trying really hard to work out what would make someone vote for the Tories and endorse this government and I’m not getting anywhere. Keeping this business in layperson terms, I get that people are different and have differing opinions. For instance, I don’t like coffee but I understand that it’s an appealing option for some people. I like heavy metal and you might like cheesy ’90s pop and we might not like each other’s ‘thing’ but we can respect and come to comprehend our dissimilar perspectives and tastes.

Nonetheless, I can’t understand why or how anyone would vote for the Conservatives with a good conscience. Maybe in terms of policies there are things that may seem logical or sensible to these mysterious minds but, ideologically and in terms of human feeling, I can’t see how you can be a right-winger and support this party. It perplexed me when I was a naïve high school student with a mancrush on Che Guevara and it continues to perplex me even more as a more mature, more open-minded and better-informed adult over ten years later. (And I feel more far-left now, by the way, and that flies in the face of that ‘you get more right-wing as you get older’ jazz I heard over and over.)

It’s simple – if you support the Conservative Party you’re in favour of selfishness, self-interest and injustice. The needs of the many are outweighed by the needs (or agendas) of a select privileged few. If you support this current manifestation of the Tory Party you are actively opposed to care and compassion for the entire population of this country. You are opposed to equality. You are in favour of what is effectively a modern continuation of ye age olde class system and you value big business and private profit more than the public good.

How can you endorse that? In your heart, soul and conscience, how can you stick up for that and put your own X-mark seal of approval on that on a ballot paper? Plus, the policies are an ill-conceived grab-bag of measures inspired by kneejerk fear, laissez-faire recklessness, stultifying myopia and just plain mean lack of concern. The austerity programme and the cuts aren’t working and are hurting this country and its people (and this country is its people, which the government fails to recognise).

I’d like to know how you can get behind that. Please, if you did vote for the Conservative Party or are a far right-winger, reach out to me and let me know what’s in your mind and in your soul (if you still have a mind and soul, which I fear you don’t but I’ll try and accept you on your terms and engage in a conversation.)

As I say, I’m at a loss and I’m devastated. The thing that hurts the most isn’t the fact that we’ve got a Tory government for another five years, but the fact that my faith has taken such a blow. I had faith in humanity, but this election puts it in doubt. Don’t people care about the most vulnerable in society? Is the majority of the public really that indifferent, or really that lacking in compassion? Are the people of Britain really that short-sighted, bigoted, easily misled and/or self-interested?

I’m looking ahead at the next five years and I’m very scared. ‘Doomed’ is a heavy and desperate word – another D word – but unfortunately it feels apt. I’m not a great patriot but I’m proud to be English and British and my stints abroad have augmented that. This is great nation – even if the Union were to break up (and that’d be okay and it’s appalling how the ‘threat’ of a break-up has been manipulated in this election). The things that make this nation great – its intellectualism, its culture, its National Health Service, its spirit of innovation, its welfare state, its humanitarianism, and its people – are all under attack and its the government of the UK that’s attacking them. We’re now even more irrelevant and even more of an embarrassment and I can’t go abroad and speak fondly of my nation with such confidence any more – as long as David Cameron and his saboteurs are destroying all that’s good about us.

They have been treating this country like toilet paper and they’re going to continue with more vigorous aggression. I’m thinking about five more years – potentially five worse years – of this and I’m filled with dread. I’m thinking about students and would-be students priced out of education. I’m thinking about children who won’t even get a decent education because the government is screwing schools and teachers. I’m thinking about the impoverished people who’ll only get even poorer and who’ll be demonised even further. I’m thinking about the rise in numbers of folk who’ll have to rely on foodbanks or choose between eating or central heating. I’m thinking about all the people exploited by zero-hour contracts or forced to desperate measures like work in the sex trade, payday loans or gambling addictions. I’m thinking about the immigrants and asylum seekers who are going to get an even colder reception thanks to the ugly political narrative that far-right parties have been getting high on of late. I’m thinking about the public transport services in further decline and public amenities and services that are going to dwindle or be taken away altogether. I’m thinking about all the charities that are going to go under and all the people they serve who will thus receive no care or assistance. I’m thinking about all the artists and talented creative people who will never get funding or any kind of support and who won’t reach their potential. I’m thinking about all the sick people who are going to pay for the misfortune of being ill. I’m thinking of all those caught up in this massive mental health crisis who have no chance of ever getting treatment or getting anywhere near the possibility of getting better.

I’m thinking about this country not getting better and I’m thinking about all of this and so much more and it’s a major headache and it hurts. Maybe I’ll be able to see more clearly in a few days when the devastated sensation has passed and I can get beyond the confused anger, but the hurt isn’t going to disappear while these soulless crooks are in power. It feels hopeless, but we have to do what we can to opposed this and get over this. Here’s to saving Britain’s soul and here’s to the human beings of Britain. We’ve taken a beating and we’ll continue to take a beating, but here’s to hope and here’s to surviving and thriving, together, in spite of it all…

*hugs Britain and hopes we’ll be okay…*

Our country under this government… *flushes*

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Vote! Vote! Vote! A Brief Blast For Change and a Better Britain…

VOTE! Here's my #GE2015 propaganda: VOTE! We have the power to save this country!

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It’s election day. It’s very exciting. I’ve already been to vote and felt the thrill of democracy in action. It’s such a rush and the buzz you get after marking your ballot, putting it in a box and leaving the polling station is a rare kick. If you haven’t voted yet, I urge you – nay I beseech you and beg you – to go and vote to get that kick. VOTE! Use your power, feel the power and VOTE!

Our political system being what it is, I can’t vote for what I really, really want (anarcho-socialism and the complete dismantling of capitalism and ‘the way things are’ in the pursuit of an enlightened utopian society inspired by the Odonian philosophies and organisational structure of the planet Anarres from Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Dispossessed. Erm, yes. I’m an idealist and I can dream and I will dream.) Still, as flawed as our first-past-the-post system is, it works in some ways and we can work with it to make it work for the UK. While we’re waiting for proportional representation to be implemented, we can still make our voices heard. Today is the chance to have your say so, I repeat, go and have your say and VOTE.

I voted for the parties that come closest to my political sympathies and that have the kind of policies and principles I agree with. I voted for potential representatives who I believe will do right by the people in my local area and, where the opportunity arises, for the nation as a whole. For the General Election, even if you feel that no one is precisely representing your ideologies on the national stage in parliament, it’s still important that you go to the polls. You can still make a difference even if you are voting against something.

Today I voted for something but – yin/yang-stylee – I was also voting against something, and this brings everything into holistic balance. First of all I was voting against irrelevant bigots who have attempted to hijack the election and the national political agenda and turn it into a debate on immigration. They don’t need any more attention, so let’s just hope that they really underperform and, post-catastrophe, go and educate themselves and learn how to be more humane and sensible human beings.

The other thing I voted against was the Conservative government. If we want to make this election really simple, I feel it can ultimately be boiled down to this: can we take another five years of Tory-led government? The answer is ‘NO’. In fact, the answer is ‘NO NO NO’. Just thinking about it makes me sick and, feeling nervous and nauseous, I’m now going to go on a short badly-written rant to express my feelings.

I apologise for the melodramatic soapboxing and bleeding-heart pleading, but I have to put this out on the off chance that it might make a difference. (Our biggest enemies are apathy and indifference, y’know.) In brief, for five years David Cameron and his cronies have been taking the UK backwards and hurting our country and our people. Time and time again the “We’re all in this together” mantra has been exposed as a lie and I find it ironic that the party that talked so much about “Broken Britain” has continued to do its best to break this country even more. The austerity policies haven’t worked and won’t work should the party be allowed to continue down the path in the future. We’ve got to prevent that grim future. We’ve got to stop the Tories getting into power again.

They lecture, but never listen. They don’t care about public service or public services. They seek to perpetuate and push a class war that belongs in the past. They misunderstand and mismanage the things that really do matter and that will ensure this country’s wellbeing and future – namely education, healthcare and welfare. They continue to kick the most vulnerable members of society in the face and then tell them that they’re doing it for their own good and that they should be grateful. They side with big business, industry and the privileged few but have no concern or compassionate concern for the public. I could go on, but the information and statistics are out there and other people’s experiences and testimonies tell the sad story better than I can right now. Ultimately, the Conservative government has been very bad for Britain and will continue to be bad for Britain.

They are out-of-touch, out-of-time and out-of-order. We need them out of government. Please, please, please vote today and I’d urge you to use that vote wisely to ensure that we get a change of government – a government that is interested in serving the people of Britain and interested in making Britain better.

(And we can all push for proportional representation and the anarcho-socialist revolution at a later date. We have the power to make change happen, people…)

 

Back in Britain and Brewing Up…

*Clicks* And you’re back in the room. Specifically, I’m back in my room. Sì ragazzi, I have returned and I said that with stress and hamtastic disjointed emphasis for dramatic event. See me. Feel me. (And, yeah, touch me and heal me, if you so desire. And then everything gets really weird and turns into a rock opera directed by Ken Russell and I’m not sure why Tina Turner is here) I’m making much ado about this because coming home back to Britain after almost three months in Italy is a bit of a big deal. I mean, I’m a legend in my own lesson schedule over there and I have a fan following so in a way the UK should be honoured that I’m gracing it with my presence… *pouts, with bonus acquired Milanese swagger*

Seriously though – and speaking with my more standard modesty and over-sentimentality – coming home is a big deal because, hey, it’s home. I love Italy and consider it a spiritual home-from-home but Dorothy has a good point. After an extended spell in foreign lands, it’s good to get back to me roots, eeeh by ‘eck, see my blood brethren, drink a proper cup of tea and relax in my own space with my own home comforts. And the home discomforts as well. It’s cold, it’s pretty wet and the moors are scowling but, love, it’s all good. I’ve got a whole stack of films and telly to catch up on, very typically British things to indulge in and some time to savour the English springtime before I bugger off again.

That could be very soon depending on election results and my own whims, ’cause I like warm Mediterranean climates, the Italian way of life and living in a place where I’m a hot commodity (or at least, my mother tongue is) and where some people think I’m a hero. Heck yes I’m a hero (*fist pump*) but I’m going to spend the imminent future trying to be a hero back in the homeland I left behind. I don’t know what that entails yet, but I’ll blog about it here when I find out and am going to retrospectively blog about some Italian adventures. I’m also eager to get on with other writing and assorted creative stuff so, yeah, ‘ave it… (Truth: while living in Italy I’ve continued to lurch into very silly British accents – most often Northern accents – to retain a feel for the Mother Land and the Mother Tongue. Unleashing esoteric dialects and voices on completely confused foreigners and showing them clips of really bad British sitcoms and adverts is a source of great amusement for exiles.)

In total, expect potentially-interesting action on the interwebs from me over coming weeks and until I decide I’m done with home and want to go off adventuring again. For now, though, it’s nice to be back. Eeeeh, d’you fancy a brew?

Home comforts, guys. Home comforts… 😀

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(The Ultimate) Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Flowing, Flowing, Flowing…’

Pronto! Okay, the Cosmos has decided that it’s storytelling time and it’s storytelling time even though I’m currently moving through minor mountains of bureaucracy, lesson plans and the all-round busy-ness of being an English teacher in a foreign country with little time to spare. Circumstances aren’t ideal but, hey, circumstances tend to come up to me and mumble “Erm, circumstances?” and then I laugh at them, ignore them or walk through. I do this because I am delusional, in denial, a Conqueror of the Impossible or all three.

I don’t know, but what I do know is that circumstances won’t prevent me marking something a little bit important, and that something that’s a little bit important is the Pictonaut Challenge. The Pictonaut Short Story Challenge is (soon to be ‘was’) the brainchild of Sir John Steele. Every month for so many months (to be precise, 42) the Venerable Meister Steele has been sticking an image up on the interwebs and saying “Alright, write a story inspired by that and try and make it around a thousand words long and have it done before this month is out“.

This is and was an excellent idea and I’ve gamely joined in and taken up the challenge every month for a while now (and when I lagged behind due to last summer’s travels I managed to catch up). I don’t know whether my efforts are good or bad and I’m aware that few people read them but ultimately it doesn’t matter. What’s important is that the Pictonaut Challenge gave me an excuse to write something and it gave me an opportunity to experiment a bit with writing (and, in some cases, not writing) while trying to meet (or just haphazardly grope at) a specific target. As a time-dependent creative exercise it was a fantastic activity to get frequently excited about and devote myself to for a fleeting moment.

Altogether, I realise that I never really cared much about the end results and that I never dwelled too much on what I was putting down on cyberpaper – the main thing was simply the process of creating. For me, Pictonaut was a means of practical way of channelling energy and imagination and it was a constant impetus to create for the sake of creating and then share just because. Sometimes we need those kind of stimuli to keep us sharp and keep us growing.

Now, the Pictonaut High Chief has decreed that he’s calling time on this thing and, thus, February 2015 is The End. As I say, I don’t have time to conjure up something expansive and elaborate but I’ve got to do something as a one-last blast. This month’s inspiral image is the picture below – a picture by the Russian artist Andrei Pervukhin

Concept art by Andrei Pervukhin inspires this month’s Pictonaut effort…

It’s a nice picture. I’ve decided to use it as the basis for a handwritten story image-type thing. It’s not a thousand-word piece but, then again, my approach to this has always been a bit maverick and off-beat. What follows then is a free-flow spontaneous Zen thread scribbled out on paper without excessive thinking or pausing. I’d like to dedicate this to and express my thankyous to John Steele, Alan Watts, water, you the reader and everyone else flowing through life and existence in this Universe. That’s sorta-kinda what this piece of work is about if you want to absorb it that way. I’ll call it ‘Flowing, Flowing, Flowing’ and it’s the last Pictonaut creation from me. Thank you, and flow on…

Pictonaut Challenge: 'Flowing, Flowing, Flowing'…

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Free Hugs and Lots of Valentine’s Day Love in the Galleria…

Hugging Robot, Human Feeling…

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Saturday was the 14th February, so Saturday was Valentine’s Day. You’re probably aware of this and know that the day commemorates the martyrdom of poor San Valentino (a.k.a. St. Valentine, Vizzy Heartdust, Sweet Val the Virile) stabbed to death by rose thorn-brandishing heathen eunuchs employed by a devastated Roman senator whose wife had run off with a Christian leathermaker. And then Al Capone shot some people, Captain Cook was skewered on Patrick Swayze’s surfboard, Richard II died after starving himself because no one invited him out for a candlelit dinner and Benedict Cumberbatch got married.

All of those are reasons to note the 14th February, but really I’d just like to think of it as a timely moment to say, “Awww, yeah! Love is great!” Love is always great, in whatever form or flavour. I could go on quoting all kinds of pop songs, pop aphorisms and suchlike but I’ll spare you because Valentine’s Day has passed us by and you could get all that by watching Moulin Rouge (and I haven’t a hope in hell of making this blogpost as entertaining as Moulin Rouge). Still, I want to reflect on it a little though and write down a short account of my lovin’ Saturday experience because I feel it has some significance.

In brief, I’m a lover but I’m not a lover. As a single man on Valentine’s Day there is nothing to do and no one to do it with, but I don’t see any point in being bitter, sad or antagonistic. Also, if you show me a calendar, I’ll seize any opportunity to do something timely related to a milestone day, even if it’s just a doodle. When February 14th rolled around I figured, “Hey! I’ve got to celebrate Valentine’s Day! I’ve got to do something to celebrate love and spread loving feeling!” I would have declared my affection to someone I love and showered them with bad poetry if I didn’t have the problem that I only fall in love with film characters (some of them robots) and women who sit opposite me on trains and then vanish out of my life after just three stops.

Still, I’m in love with the idea of love like Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge. And maybe in a couple of months I’m going to move to Paris and write a hit musical that’ll spark a fresh Bohemian Revolution. For now though, I’m in Milano in Italy and I was also in Milano in Italy on Saturday. “How romantic it is just being here in this romantic place surrounded by all these beautiful people on Valentine’s Day!” I thought. “I’m going to see if any of my friends want to come with me to the Duomo on Valentine’s Day morning and share ‘Free Hugs’ with strangers!

I did that – actually we did that, because some friends joined me – and it was wonderful. Sadly, the weather was lousy and it was too wet to stand outside next to the grand cathedral so instead we stood under the cover of the grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (the great shopping arcade, home to high fashion outlets and a floor mural of a bull on whose testicles you stand and spin around if you want some extra good luck). I made a sign to advertise that I was offering free hugs and a number of passers-by embraced me and my colleagues.

We shared some really nice cuddles with an array of random people from both Italy and various international destinations. We got into nice conversations and made a lot of people smile. It even followed a couple of us home as we ended up hugging and talking with a mixed group of Anglo-American tourists to the bemusement of everyone else in the train carriage. I repeat again: it was wonderful, and the main reason it was wonderful was because it was a sweet moment of human connection and human sharing.

What I learned – or re-learned, or was potently reminded of – was this fundamental fact which I very often forget: human beings are social creatures and they need to retain a link to other people, to be open-hearted and to live with compassion and empathy. ‘Free Hugs’ is a way of consciously forcing oneself to knock down the barriers and make yourself open to others as opposed to distancing yourself. As a loner prone to self-isolation (not always a good thing) and as someone who wants to make people happy (“And, by Aphrodite, I will make you happy, damn you!” *smites them all with a double-rainbow*) ‘Free Hugs’ is a win-win scenario.

I loved the experience, and I’m going to do it again (and again and again, if possible) not for attention, but because I believe that ‘Free Hugs’ is a beautiful thing. It spreads positive energy, encourages human connection and brings human beings together, even if it just for a fleeting moment. It’s a moment of love and love is something worth celebrating, on Valentine’s Day and everyday.

I’m going to go and write a Bohemian musical about love. And I’m going to try and find more people to hug, which is easy in Italy where hugs are conventional everyday greetings. I hope you all had a nice Valentine’s Day and urge you to hug more often. Embrace it, and embrace each other…

Hey! Let's hug!

Hey! Let’s hug!