Walking Dave

Picture the scene.

I’m sitting on the sofa watching TV. There is a small brindle dog lying next to me, gently snoring. At my feet a small black dog lies on a rug, knawing on a chew toy. He stops, stands up, and turns around to face me. He whines pathetically, his bottom lip petted. He needs out.

“OK then,” I say as I stand up, “let’s go”. He steps back and then follows me out into the hall.

I slip on my shoes, pull on my jacket, check I have my keys and some poo bags, and reach for his harness and lead.

He does not like putting his harness on. Honestly you’d think it was full of spikes or something; the second you lift it off the hook, he turns and heads back to the living room only to remembers he needs out, upon which he turns round and walks back into the hall, stopping a few feet away from where I stand.

I beckon him forward. He takes one more step forward and waits.

I reach down and slide the harness over his head, click both fasteners closed, wait for him to do his usual circle around me (no idea why) and open the front door.

All the while, the snoring from the living room continues.

Dave and I step out and head for our first stop. It’s not far, he needs to pee after all, but he’s pulling on the lead. I can sympathise, we’ve all had that feeling when the cool air hits you, so I pick up my pace. After checking there is no-one around, no other dogs at least, I unclip the lead from his harness. He quickly heads off to find a spot and once he has he leans forward, head held aloft, striking a very regal pose for a most unregal activity.

Don’t worry, this is not a post about taking my dog out for a pee.

But it is about the simple joy of being outside, rain or shine, with a faithful companion.

We are lucky that we live where there are a few small parks dotted around nearby. In less than 10 mins we can be in leafy green area where Dave can be let off the lead (after checking we are mostly alone of course) to roam and wander and explore. We also have a larger park near us, big enough to host a Parkrun (5km weekend run), where I occasionally take Dave and, once he realises where we are heading he knows that a tennis ball will feature soon and, once that wonderous yellow orb has made an appearance, it’s all he cares about. I’ve yet to see him distracted for more than a few seconds when there is a tennis ball involved.

But mostly his walks are around the local neighbourhood.

He is well trained and loves loves LOVES being on a walk. He is handsome, has a glossy coat and a ready smile for passers-by and sometimes, if you are lucky, he’ll want to stop and say hello but mostly he is DOING A WALK and can be very single-minded on this so let’s be clear, unless you have treats, he may not care that you think he’s a good boy, or that he’s handsome, or a ‘wee cracker’, because he is DOING A WALK. It’s nothing personal but he ain’t stopping, he has places to go, smells to seek out and who knows, maybe a squirrel friend to make!

You get pretty good at reading the body language of other people when you are walking a dog. I know not everyone likes dogs (aka weirdos) and so if I see someone we are approaching trying to eek out every centimetre of the pavement, hugging the kerb, then I’ll make it obvious that Dave is not able to get anywhere near them. He’s also a very good boy at STOPPING and WAITING if that’s what is gonna be less hassle for everyone else.

There are several places where he gets let off to roam. These parts of the walk are the best and the worst. They are the best as it’s clear Dave loves exploring all the wonderful smells, and they are the worst because I’m constantly scanning around for any possible distractions or anything that might cause an issue – a jogger, another dog, a squirrel (!) – whilst keeping an eye on Dave as he meanders around, following his nose.

All of these places are reasonably enclosed, small parks or areas of grass, and Dave will happily roam around and follow commands if he wanders off too far. He loves to chase birds and squirrels, because he wants to be friends with them, and occasionally that can take him a little too close to a gate or road for comfort. My heart races as I holler his name in the right tone, the one that (so far!) has made him stop dead and turn round.

He really is a good boy.

It’s something I tell him often whilst we are out walking, rain or shine, as he walks on with a dogged determination to get where he is going even if that means sometimes we will both have different ideas of where that is when we get to a particular corner or a crossing, and so you may see me standing with a small black dog leaning all his weight in one direction, whilst I stand pointing in the other direction and suggesting that ‘No Dave, we are going this way’. Some days I let him win, it’s his walk as much as mine.

Dave and I will chat most of the time when we are out on a walk, and whilst it’s a pretty one way conversation – not because he’s rude or anything but he is DOING A WALK and just doesn’t have time for idle chit-chat – I always come home feeling good about myself.

Perhaps it’s because there is such a singular purpose to taking him for a walk, a focus and purity to the activity that I don’t get elsewhere. There is me and Dave and the walk. Nothing else really matters, as long as I keep him safe and he has fun then I’m happy, and somewhere along the way my own mind clears and some days I find myself taking a longer route home just to enjoy my time with him.

Considering he’s only been in my life for about a year it’s safe to say that we’ve bonded pretty well, and whilst the old adage likely holds true – you are only as good as your last walk – and I have to battle for his affections with our dog walker, I still look forward to taking him out.

It also makes me appreciate our corner of this beautiful city we live in all the more, and how many small green places it has, some hidden away in odd corners or dead ends, and on the days the sun is shining and the plants are in full bloom it is utterly glorious. Just me, the fresh air, nature all around us, a small furry black dog who sometimes turns to look at you with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen.

It’s quite simply the best therapy I’ve ever experienced.

We finally get home, and as soon as the door is unlocked and opened Sasha sprints through from the living room to greet us with her usual frantic abandon. She runs in circles, tail wagging madly as I unclip the harness and let Dave wander off to get a drink and rub up and down the sofa to get the feeling of that horrible, terrifying harness off of him.

I’ll grab a glass of water and sit down myself. Sasha will rush over and promptly sit on my lap (to make sure I don’t leave again), and I’ll sit there a while, telling her she’s a good girl whilst I rub her tummy.

In nature

The air is cool as it moves around us. Under foot, crimson leaves lie fallen, their work done, and far above our heads the empty branches whisper in the wind. Decades of stories are whispered back and forth above our heads, as we stand below them, looking up as they sway and talk.

On we walk, enjoying the crisp air on our cheeks, our hands warm in gloves, feet swathed in socks and boots. The path changes to gravel, then grass and back again as we meander our way through the forest. Mushrooms peak from fallen logs, fir trees stand vibrant in the morning glow, in the distance a burbling stream tumbles its way to meet the river some miles from here. There is a quiet murmur of nothing all around us as plants and insects and animals go about their day.

As we walk we chat about this and that, nothing of importance for that is not why we are here. For us this is a hallowed place, a church bigger than any other, a nurturing land with gentle qualities, that can be as harsh as it is tender, as beautiful as it is stark.

There is no place for religion here, only nature in all its glory. Even at this time of the year, with winter setting in it is quietly powerful and beautiful in more ways than I have words to describe. Stand under a large tree and let your eye travel up that gnarled and weary trunk, decades old, strong and solid. Look at the branches as they spread out to capture the sky, the twigs that twist ever higher, and even now in these early winter months there a few leaves who haven’t quite finished their work, not yet but soon.

Look up through the branches to the sky.

How small we are, how insignificant.

Walking on we turn a corner and a single mirrored sheet stretches out before us, reflecting the clouds as they scroll across the surface to the other side before disappearing into the reed beds. Some ducks emerge from the shore and send ripples across the water, rendering the sky surreal yet no less captivating.

We stand and breath in the clean air, sharp and cold on our lungs and cheeks.

We smile as Mother Nature looks over us.

The Lake Keeper

I’m trying something new, I’ve dabbled with fiction here and there on this blog, and the recent November Blogging challenge made me realise that I enjoyed the freedom a simple prompt can bring. So, let’s see how it goes.

The post is written in response to a prompt from Genre Scribes: Friday Fiction Writing Challenge #24 — Lake.

It was always known as the Lake Keepers cottage when I was growing up, although I never recalled seeing anyone living there, just the occasional signs of people passing through, more bothy than home.

Most of the Lake Keepers kept to their boats, all the better to do their job, so as I walked nearby early one morning I was startled to see a man leaving the building. Through the fresh mist that clung to the waters edge I could just make out a hunched figure trudging from the front door of the cottage and down the jetty to the boat floating there on the calm waters.

I watched as he clomped his way back, footsteps on wet boards sending tiny ripples across the water. Without realising I had moved behind a small tree so as not to be seen.

The door remained closed for some time, had it been an apparition, a side effect of my medication?

I was just about to leave when the door was flung open and I watched as the shadowy figure lumbered out, stooping as he walked through the door frame.

It was still early, the sun was barely up, but it was unmistakeable. I stood there and watched the Lake Keeper carry a body out of the cottage and down the jetty to the waiting boat.

The Blip

I’m standing in the room. It’s a room I’ve heard described by many others but here I am, finally. I can’t quite believe what’s happening, it feels surreal, like I’m still in a dream, which is oddly apt I suppose.

The message was waiting for me when I woke, as I rose from my bed the everyscreen on the wall chirruped its notification and up popped the message “YOUR BLIP DAY IS HERE” in the official corporament lettering, large and bold in the middle of the screen. It’s odd seeing something you’ve seen so often before, all those images posted to social feeds over and over, suddenly there in front of you, on your screen, in your reality, in front of your own eyes. It doesn’t seem real. I sat on the edge of the bed for the longest time just staring at the image.

Underneath it read, “Please report to The Centre by 10:00 today”, so I eventually rose, showered, and left my pod.

I was still a bit unsettled as I got on the shuttle, with all the other commuters heading to the Inner, and as it whisked silently along I looked around. Row after row of citizens minding their own business, headscreens in place here and there, eyes closed elsewhere. I rarely got the shuttle these days, my job being transferred to the Outer a few years ago, and it just added to the air of excitement that was slowly building as the Inner loomed closer and closer, with the grandspire of The Centre looming larger and larger.

The shuttle chime signalled the end of my journey and as I stepped out from the station into the street I could feel the nervous knot in my stomach churning tighter and tighter.

No-one walking past me knew what I was about to do today, yet I wondered if anyone would guess. Why would someone like me, clearly not a frequent visitor to these parts, be here at this time of day after all? But then part of the rules to avoid you being corrupted by people wanting to use your Blip for their own ends was to keep it secret, and we’d all seen the warnings and read the stories – that, one about the person who ended up being hit by a shuttle moving at full speed, still makes me shiver! – so I kept my head down and walked on.

I reached The Centre just before 10am and, after the usual rigmarole of scans and ID checks were passed, I was taken by a very polite assistant to a waiting room who told me someone else would be along soon to take me to the Blip Room and that I should take a seat. They said a lot of other things about the building we were in and the corridors we were strolling and the offices we were passing as walked from the entrance to the waiting room, all in the same breathless monotone that I daren’t interrupt.

I sat in the only seat in the room, my mind racing as I absent mindedly drummed my fingers on the soft leather of the arm of the chair.

A couple of minutes later another assistant, dressed in the same gentle green as the previous one, appeared and asked me to stand up and follow them. I stood up and almost walked into their back as they hadn’t moved, but then peering past them I saw it, just beyond them on the far wall, a door had appeared and was sliding open. I followed the assistant through into the darkened room, and stood where I was told. After a brief explanation to confirm why I was there and what I was to do and what to expect – entirely pointless because everyone already knows what Blip Day involves – they turned and walked out, closing their part in my day with the final parting words that I already knew they would say, “Take your time, start when you are ready”.

So there I stood, looking at the computer terminal in front of me. Set on a pedestal with a small keypad in front of it. At the top of the screen was the current date and time, which told me it was 10:01 and underneath in vivid neon green words splashed across the centre of the screen were the words; “Please enter the date and time from the previous week for your desired BLIP, then hit Enter.” Underneath the words was an empty line at the start of which was a blinking cursor waiting for me to make a decision.

It was as underwhelming as it was intoxicatingly exciting.

My Blip was finally here.

I’ve spoken to others who’ve been through today, and they all say similar things about wishing they’d known when they would be chosen, even though we all know it’s a lottery for a reason. Can you imagine living your life with the knowledge of when you would be the one standing here, in this place, with the cursor beckoning you to enter a date from your immediate past?

Imagine the havoc it would wreak, as you planned your “blip time” and did everything in your power to make it as perfect as you’ve ever dreamed. Just the stress of getting things right, knowing that you’ll only have one chance to relive that exact moment, that perfect hour over again, would surely be crippling.

That’s not to say I’ve not fantasised about what my perfect hour would be, we all have and anyone who says they haven’t is a liar, or they’ve already Blipped and are living with the regret of making the wrong choice.

My own fantasies veer from the ridiculous; a deserted beach, cocktails at sunset, and then a descent into as much lewd detail as I can cram into an hour (which, it turns out, is a quite disturbing amount), all the way through to a quiet lazy Sunday afternoon, lying on the hover sofa in the warmth of a summer breeze doing nothing much of anything. The latter is far more achievable than the former but hey, isn’t that what fantasies are for?

Then I realise how selfish I’m being and surely if I could reclaim an hour and do it all over again it would be better doing something productive, or something that will help other people? And then I realise that those people will also get to do an hour over so it’s ok to focus on myself for this and round the cycle goes.

They have counselling available after you Blip, if you want it, but imagine what the psychological damage would be like if knew when it would be your turn? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

All of this is flashing through my mind as I stand there, watching the cursor slowly blink.

“Please enter the date and time from the previous week for your desired BLIP, then hit Enter.”

They said I should take my time, I’m not sure they meant quite this long.

“Please enter the date and time from the previous week for your desired BLIP, then hit Enter.”

My palms are sweaty now and I force myself to focus, trying to recall every detail of the past week? I had a nice lunch on Tuesday with my sister, that was a nice hour? That walk at sunset on Sunday evening was beautiful, and… god what else did I do? Maybe I should go back and undo something rather than re-experience something I enjoyed?

There was that slip up at work that cost me an afternoon, I could go back and fix that. That homeless person I walked past that I ignored, maybe I go back and buy them some hot food and chat with them a while?

My brain was spinning and it was hard to focus and I started to realise how lucky I was. Here I stood, on my Blip Day and despite being able to go back and relive any hour of my life from the past week I didn’t feel any compulsion to do so? The things that didn’t go so well were not so bad that I need to fix them, and the good things were all with people I will see again in the future.

I wonder then if I could trade my Blip Day, hand it in and give someone else, maybe someone who had already used there turn many years ago. Someone who since then had had something bad, something you would want to undo? Perhaps the death of a loved one? Could I give them a chance to go back to the days before so they could say all the things they wanted to say?

Or that homeless guy, if he’s had his Blip Day already, maybe I can go back and let him make a different decision that saves him ending up cold and alone on the pavements of the city? One of my work colleagues recently ran over and killed a cat, maybe they get to go back in time to brake sooner?

The possibilities were endless, and the longer I stood there the more I realised how futile this choice was.

“Please enter the date and time from the previous week for your desired BLIP, then hit Enter.”

It was impossible, how could anyone, any single person, make a good decision? Especially someone like me, who by and large lived a privileged life, full of happiness and laughter? Surely there should be some level of worthiness, or need, considered when they selected the next Blip Day recipient.

“Please enter the date and time from the previous week for your desired BLIP, then hit Enter.”

Again the random nature of all of this struck me. I had been chosen so I should just make the most of this opportunity rather than waste it.

Yet still my brain struggled to latch on to anything of note from the previous week, no matter how hard I tried I drew blank after blank. I replayed every waking hour day by day, retracing my steps through time and there was nothing. I’d been doing this for my entire journey from home to the Inner and the walk to the Centre. I’d had a nice lunch one day but couldn’t recall if it was two or three days ago. There was a nice sunset last Wednesday I think? Or was it Friday? The harder I thought the more I struggled to recall any details at all from the previous week of my mundane life.

“Please enter the date and time from the previous week for your desired BLIP, then hit Enter.”

The room was warm, or maybe it was just me, and I could feel the panic rising. What happens if I can’t think of a time? Do I just leave the room? Do I get another chance or is this it? Why is my life so boring? All those people who talk about living your best life, and parrot that ancient phrase over and over – You Only Live Once – were right, I’d not been paying attention and so was faced with almost no choice at all, there was nothing from my last week that was of any interest or of any note.

My heart raced faster and faster as I tried to think. Surely there was a time limit, but then how long had I been standing here? Did they come and get me if I ran out of time, or do I just leave? I couldn’t even see a door for that matter, as soon as it had closed it had merged seamlessly with the wall. I looked around the room again but could see nothing bar the screen in front of me and that incessant, blinking, cursor.

I’d just need to choose something, anything. Pick a time and date at random and live with it.

God, what a laughing stock I’d be, but then is anyone any different, all those people who stood before me at these screens, surely they all went through the same experience? And how many people actually took note of their life in such detail that they could pinpoint an exact hour to relive? I remember reading about one person from the Outer 47th who went back to try and save a friend from a bad accident and ended up in the accident themselves because they got the time wrong by a few minutes, what if I did something like that?

I took a deep breath, forced my mind to slow. I am here now. I have one choice to make. Fundamentally that choice makes no difference to my life as it is, at the end of the hour I will be back here and I will leave and go home and tomorrow I will go work as normal and people will ask me what I did and I can tell them anything I like, even though I know I’ll tell them honestly that I didn’t make the most of this experience. And that’s ok too, not everyone has to have a great Blip, right? Surely the majority of them are all going to be like mine, an unremarkable hour of an unremarkable life.

How long had I been standing here? I glanced at the clock at the top of the screen which read 10:59, almost an hour! Are they watching me and wondering what I’m doing? No, don’t panic, just breathe. You aren’t the first person to stand here and the assistant said to take my time. It was no use, almost an hour of wracking my brain and I was still no closer.

“Please enter the date and time from the previous week for your desired BLIP, then hit Enter.”

My hands hovered over the keypad.

If only I had more time.

Humbug

Deck the halls

It is December, let the festive season begin!

There are many parts of this time of year that I enjoy, the sparkly lights that make the darkness a little more bearable, the abundance of hot chocolate options, stodgy foods, and the fact that for many of us it’s a holiday and a chance to have a few days off with few expectations.

It is a time for friends and family, first and foremost. After that, if you are lucky enough, there is simply a few days of doing comparably nothing except staying warm and eating too much food.

This year, as we have for the last few years, my family are limiting the number of presents we buy. None of us really need anything, so the most recent addition to the family is where we focus and no doubt my wonderful niece will be spoiled rotten. Part of me hopes not too much though; is it too early to start reducing the expectation that Christmas Day is all about many many presents, and lots more stuff? Perhaps, she’s not even four years old but still, perhaps.

Mindful purchases will be made, and again I will fight the desire towards excess (I still have three bottles of Baileys from last year) but know it is part and parcel, manufactured or not, of the season.

There will be gatherings throughout this time, families will come together, friends will catch up after far too long apart, and the comfort those activities bring only adds to the sense of comfort and warmth and love.

We will get a tree and decorate it, we will string lights up to proclaim our happiness, and confess our luck all the while counting our many many blessings and all the shapes and forms in which they are delivered.

And all too soon it will be over, 2020 will have arrived we will start searching for new distractions and invariably end up back in the same routines as before.

Ohhh to find a way to hold on to the quiet joy that December holds, the gentle uplift of the soul by all those coloured lights bedecking halls, gardens, and buildings, the cheery optimism of Christmas songs.

Thoughts too for those less fortunate, and a desire to retain the awareness of those who need a little help and support throughout the year, even whilst it is keenly felt in the cold winds and frosts of our winter.

I’ve always liked December and the sense of joy and silliness it allows, adults can indulge their more childish impulses (yes, I have trifle for breakfast on Boxing Day!) whilst indulge their children even more. Pets are pampered and spoiled and everything feels a little more relaxed, almost like the relief of getting through to the end of another year is lifting from all of us.

I hope for snow to walk in on a frosty winters morning as much as I loathe the messy slush it becomes. I long for my childhoods of sneaking chocolates from the Xmas tree, and the open fire in our living room. I look forward to laughing long and hard, making the most of the short time that we all come together in one place for a while; even though the jokes are old they are ours and always raise a smile.

I realise that the mere contemplation of all of this is making me smile.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

November challenges

November is over and I no longer need to write a new post every day. It’s finished, done, finito. Looking back at what I’ve published and there are some posts in there that I’m pretty proud of, and others that I’m well aware I cobbled together even though I didn’t really have the motivation. But it was a month long challenge and I did it. Kudos and self fives to me!

It’s been a long time since I did something like this; it’s one thing blogging to a schedule as I did in 2018 (3 posts a week), quite another to do it every single day. To that end, having a list of titles provided was more liberating than I thought it would be, even on the topics I was dreading having to write about (hello religion and politics!) I found myself able to construct and firm up some thoughts that I’d normally have left pinging around my little brain as I scrabbled around to write for the topic of the day.

A few years ago I participated in NaNoWriMo – the goal of writing 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November – and managed to complete it even though that felt like a much bigger struggle as it became all encompassing, every evening I sat at the computer with the same base topic churning over and over in my head as I frantically typed and watched the word count rise. It felt like pressure and towards the middle it was a challenge to keep going, the motivation purely to hit a number count, not writing for the enjoyment of writing.

Each of the posts I wrote last month were a breathe of fresh air, given I was free of figuring out what to write about. It allowed my brain to wander and I think the posts are better for it. On the whole I wrote most of them a few days in advance, taking time over the weekends to draft the next four or five, then refining them day by day before scheduling them to appear on the correct day of the month.

And it all started somewhere else entirely.

I’ve been quietly using micro.blog for a few weeks now, mostly just to try it out, prompted by randomly browsing the archives of my own site and remembering a time where I didn’t care about the volume of each post as sometimes a thought can be captured in a few lines of text and nothing else is needed. I started following a few people there and towards the end of October, one of the people Jean MacDonald (a founder of micro.blog) said she was going to try something akin to NaNoWriMo just on a smaller scale and with a randomly generated word being used to prompt one post a day in November.

What a great way to force myself to use micro.blog everyday and so I followed suit and you can view them all here. They’ve been cross posted to Twitter as well, garnering a few likes on that platform which was interesting too.

Quickly after that, in response to Jean setting the challenge, another person on micro.blog – Andrew Canion – said he was doing a blog challenge in November along similar lines and before I realised we were into the middle of the first week of Thursday and I was committed to completing both challenges.

Both challenges have been fun and challenging in different ways; Keeping the micro.blog posts short and succinct has led to some creative thinking and forced me to boil down what I’m writing to only the essential words, the longer blog posts I’ve published here have allowed me to roam and think about the given topic and I’ve learnt a lot about myself on the way too, isn’t it always the way?

Part of me is glad the blog challenge is over, writing a new topic every day is taxing at times, but part of me wonders if I could keep it going, if given a decent list of topics to tackle. Having that focus removes all of the writers block for me, no more staring at an empty screen and hoping inspiration strikes, as each topic was enough to prompt at least a few lines of thought that I could pull together and expand on.

Equally the micro.blog challenge offered a different approach but the same freedom to explore.

Perhaps my occasional malaise about my blog is simply lack of inspiration.

Perhaps I will look to this approach more often in the future.

Perhaps.

For now, I’m glad to be able to not have to think about what I’m going to write tomorrow…
P.S. Did you spot the one that used the first letter of the prompt word to start each new paragraph?

Politics

The UK is facing a general election, driven by a vote two years ago that saw the UK vote for something they didn’t understand, that wasn’t defined, and still isn’t. In the US, the President is facing impeachment, having lied, blustered, and stoked hatred at every turn.

And today I’ve to write about politics?

Back in the UK the current ruling party have been directly to blame for austerity and the death of those at the margins of our society, homelessness has risen, the NHS has been decimated, amongst other measures, whilst the self-serving, insufferable, uncaring, leaders of the party continue to perpetuate a vicious dereliction of compassion.

It’s hard to consider politics as it should be when these days it’s all built on a system that favours the rich and loud, invariably white, men who benefit from keeping the general public in their place. The political landscape of the UK is not based on passionate debate but point scoring and name calling, with nary a thought for those of us who have to live day to day with the policies foisted upon us.

Invariably when discussing politics it’s hard to focus on the things that matter, the manifesto promises by each party, as opposed to wherever they are trying to get you to focus. Are you a Labour voter, here’s a Rabbi saying Corbyn is an anti-semite (that he may or may not be isn’t the point here, they are making you focus on this).

As a point it is one worth consider, do we want someone like that in power? Or should we just stick with Johnson and his blatant lies (and don’t get me started on the lack of impartiality being shown by the BBC at the moment), or maybe Swinson is the choice to make even though she is basically a Tory in disguise and as supported all of their most hated policies to date. And in Scotland, even the erudite Sturgeon splits opinion amongst many, even though the SNP have more MPs in Parliament than the Lib Dems.

All I know is that there is no intelligent discussion when discussing politics with any of these people, to wed to their views, to unwilling to even hint that they would compromise a little here and there to make things better for us, the voters. We are left with a choice that offers not real alternatives and the longer this continues the more it feels like a vote we made as a country a couple of years ago.

Back then, despite not knowing exactly how Brexit was going to benefit us, the UK voted for it. It is still on the table today along with many other vague promises and, once again, we will vote not based on knowledge but on dislike.

A vote for Labour is more about a vote against the Tories than for Labour, a vote for the SNP is more about a vote against the UK Parliament than it is about what’s best for the people of Scotland (if there is no second referendum), a vote for the Tories is more about keeping the socialist lefties out of power.

Underlying all of those decisions is hatred in one form of another, at the edges of all these parties are the extremists, but those edges are widening and even the most centrist of party members start to fall into one camp or another. You are either with us or against us.

It’s almost like we’ve all forgotten that we are supposed to be one humanity, living on one planet.

I will vote in the General Election, and I will watch the aftermath unfurl in what I already fear will be a predictable mess that will further erode civil rights and lower the standard of living for those on the breadline, whilst leaving the rich richer and more protected than ever.

And this is why I don’t talk about politics. It’s a bleak place, with little hope or beauty, and sunshine does not even dare venture here. It is broken, and hurtful, yet it is all we have.

Religion

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

I can still recite this prayer, word for word, despite not having actively set foot inside a church for the best part of 30 years. I’m not sure if that is awe-inspiring (the power of the human mind!) or terrifying (mind washed chanting), but there you have it.

My childhood was dominated by time spent in the church and in the church halls. Sunday School before the main service on a Sunday morning, Saturday clubs, and the Boys Brigade, all meant that for a while I spent most of my ‘organised’ leisure time there. It was great fun, aside from the boring God stuff of course.

I also joined Scripture Union sessions when I was in secondary school, even going to a week long SU camp on Arran a couple of times. Again, a lot of fun, and some wonderful memories, but again, there was that boring God stuff…

Except the God stuff isn’t all that boring, certainly not as I got older and started to actually READ the bible properly, to understand the stories better both in terms of their underlying messages but in some of the visceral imagery used. There are some wonderful stories in the bible, perfect for a young mind to latch on to and absorb.

But at some point, probably when I got to an age where I was allowed to make my own decisions as a young adult, I stopped going to church, the Boys Brigade ended for me too as I was no longer a ‘boy’, and God took a back seat in my life, easily written off as a bunch of stories written by men to influence and control other people.

I look back on my childhood, and those religious specific memories with nothing but fondness now, and can see it was good for me to be there, to be socialising, and learning how to be a kind person, even if that kindness was only viewed through a specific lens.

Unfortunately, and particularly as we attend Church of Scotland services, the older I got, the more bored and disinterested I became. It’s an area the church has definitely struggled with, staying relevant in modern times, and looking at the average age of those Sunday morning service attendees – which was already pretty high when I was still going – and you see why.

For a long time I just steered clear of the topic of religion, happily ensconced in my agnostic atheism (yes it’s a thing), but as my awareness of the world grew, so did my view into other religions.

What is it about religion that can bring such fervour?

To be clear, I’m not anti-religion, there are elements of what they aspire to that are good, it’s just unfortunate that many people who claim to be religious are really only interested in the aspects of a given religion that works for them. To my basic understanding, of the most populist religions at least, none of them suggest anything other than compassion for your fellow human, regardless of their circumstance. Yet wars have been started because of religion, individuals have been targeted, vilified, and killed because of religion, so remind me again why religion is a good thing?

I believe in science. I do not believe there is some omnipotent deity overlooking us. And yes, I’m aware that I hold a position of atheism and am talking in terms of the here and now, and that those of a religious persuasion will hold the view that there is more to life than what we see in front of so… well that’s a discussion that will never end.

There’s a reason that I’ve never really discussed religion on this blog, and this is it. I’m not anti-religion per se, just anti-religious factions that instil hate. I’m not anti-God per se, just against the use of a view of the world that inflicts pain and suffering on others.

I know many people who are religious, and by and large they are good people, who care for others, have kindness in their hearts, and understand that the world isn’t two-tone, that there are levels of acceptance that their religion may not have right, but which in their day to day lives they find a way to balance.

I’ve sat with Muslims who go to prayers every day, and have the occasional bottle of beer now and then. I’ve gone drinking with Jews who scoff down bacon rolls the next morning, I’ve lunched with devout Christians who swear and commit blasphemy more than many other people I know.

Life is a spectrum, and my problem with religion is when it forgets that fact. We are not all the same, one person is not the same as the next person, they are different by genetics, by social standing, by upbringing, by education, by nutrition, by the colour of their skin, by their abilities. Yet many of the religious writings and scriptures and studies don’t even knowledge these things, let alone give them any attention. And, given that all of the historic writing on religion was done by men, it’s easy to start to see how it has been easily used as a way to keep the ‘people’ in their place.

With all of that in mind, I look at the power that religion still wields today and the fanaticism that it can generate, and it’s just not something I can agree with or follow.

Finally we should tackle the entire notion of faith. It’s already a fallacy, given that I don’t have any faith in any God of any sort, but when I see this behaviour exhibited in other people who I consider to be smart it always baffles me (which, those who have it, will argue is why I don’t have it in the first place, circular logic is also something that baffles me when exhibited by those I consider smart, but I digress).

Faith: The assent of the mind to the truth of a proposition or statement for which there is not complete evidence.

And there you have it. Whilst I cannot completely prove there is not any God, you cannot completely prove to me there is and, as Stephen Fry once said, if there is one at all then looking at the world they built, it is clear they are a maniac; “Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?”.

I’ve yet to see an answer to that question that would give me faith.

I’ll let you know if I do.

Hope

Isn’t the world a wonderful place? Aren’t these trees, that grass, those bushes and flowers, amazing in so many ways? Is there anything better than a baby smiling at you? Or the perpetual joy with which your dog greets you when you get home, every night?

It’s very easy to look at the world we live in today with negativity. It’s overwhelming at times, a constant barrage of awful news, or pain and suffering, of disease and decay, of natural disasters, and man-made catastrophes. In the UK the headlines serve only to inform us of the corrupt and dishonesty that our political system is built upon, in the US a white nationalist moron is President, and round the world evil and hatred are in evidence and in power.

It can be hard to retain empathy and love, to find compassion and happiness in the midst of all this darkness. But more than ever it is essential that we find a way.

In the past I’ve talked about finding moments of beauty in your day, and invariably they rely on nature; either from the natural world or from a good deed by someone. Ultimately anything that makes you smile and distracts you for a fleeting second, taking your mind away from negativity and towards happier thoughts.

It doesn’t take much, but I find myself seeking them out more and more these days, building them up in an effort to staunch the tide of darkness that seems to be sweeping the globe. I’m lucky to have a happy home, and find myself gazing at our dogs as they sleep, snoring away without a care in the world, utterly content. What a wonderful state to be in.

I’ve been slowly getting back into my meditation habits as well, which is helping no end. A 10 minute pause and reset is all it really takes to let my brain calm and for some perspective to enter. The world isn’t as bad as it seems, that’s just how the media portray it, and if you look elsewhere on social media there is kindness and care to be found in abundance.

I hope that things will change and it won’t always seem as bleak, and I hope that as I continue to take note of the love around me that my view will remain as it is today, and that love and compassion will win out over hatred.

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

I hope.

Loss

The hurt of loss, the longing of one, the distance from those, the untouchable.

I wrote those words a long time ago.

Time is a great healer yet those who have lost loved ones will know, all too well, that it only takes a tiny moment to bring memories snapping back into vivid view in a heartbeat, all to remind you once again of the gap they have left in your life. It hurts, and while that hurt softens it never leaves you.

I can’t really remember all that much about my Grandpa passing. He’d been ill most of my life, suffering a number of strokes that left him in a wheelchair and able to speak. He remained a presence in the room though, and my earliest memories of him veer from the happiest as he laughed along with the rest of the family, to the darker ones. As he couldn’t express himself verbally he got easily frustrated and would bang the table loudly, it was frightening for a young boy to see.

I was sad when he died, he was still my Grandpa, and that meant something to me, even if I wasn’t sure what.

I was sadder when my Gran died. She looked after my Grandpa for the remaining years of his life, but still had time to look after me on occasion, and she was always happy to spoil her only grandson with ice cream and a toy from the local shopping centre. Towards the end, as she lay in a bed in her room in a local hospice, I would visit and tell her about my day and do my best to make her laugh, I usually managed it and I would leave slightly sad but comfortable that she was in the right place and knew that I cared for her. Her death is still keenly felt and, as my own mother has been in and out of hospital over the past few years, I find myself thinking back to my Gran.

Grief and loss felt very isolating. My approach to grief has been to lock it away from others, almost as if I’m trying to protect it from hurting anyone else, and most definitely because loss is a very personal thing. I know the things that I missed when my Gran died will be different to those the rest of my family felt.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve, just as there are no right and wrong emotions when that moment comes. I can remember a sense of relief when my Gran passed; seeing someone you love dearly lying in a bed in a care home in her final days are not how I want to remember my Gran. So in a strange way it was, alongside the sadness, a weight off my mind. Now I was free to remember the Gran I knew as a small boy, spoiling me with ice cream and toys, and in later years as I grew older, telling stories of how she and her friends would dress up in their finest and deliberately wander past where the American soldiers were camped out during the war!

Loss is unique, and overwhelming, and natural, and sad, and an opportunity to remember the good things, and the further we get from the moment of loss itself, the more I find solace in the happy memories, the laughter and love that I still carry in my heart.