Monday, January 30, 2017

Public Information Coupled with Prophecy

I'm betting you all hear someone at some point, every year, say, 'This bloody cold has been bugging me for weeks now' or something very similar.

Here's the thing - a cold virus lasts between 24 and a little less than 72 hours. Plus, unlike flu viruses, the number of which can be counted in the tens, cold viruses can be counted in their thousands and this is fundamentally the main reason why scientists will not come up with a cure for the common cold anytime soon. That doesn't really address the opening sentence though.

When you get a cold, your natural immune system does what it is designed to do, it fights the cold virus and it kicks its arse. Cold viruses are nasty little buggers, but they aren't usually killers. However, depending on your current state of health when you get a cold, you could be open to a number of other things, which aren't colds but we associate them with colds and therefore believe them to be either the same cold or another - a misnomer that a well known newspaper debunked recently. The fact is when we get a cold and we kick its arse, it depletes our immune system to the level of allowing other, related, ailments to gain a foothold. You know all that green snot you get about four or five days after you have a cold. That isn't the cold, it's sinusitis - an inflammation of your sinuses caused by some other bug that has managed to inveigle its way into your head. What about that cough? That must be the cold? No, it's probably inflammation of your airways because of the cold. What about the headaches and the aches that stick around? Well, the headache could be caused by a number of things, probably the coughing or the sinusitis. The aches are simple; we all get them, but being run down from having had a cold makes you feel achy.

But... what about when the cold actually comes back. You know, almost the same symptoms but about two weeks after? Yep, that's a cold. Only it's not the cold, its another one, because your immune system has fucked up one virus, but not another similar one which now uses your immune-deficient system to piggyback into another bout of you feeling crap, having a runny nose and general shitty-ness, known in some circles as 'man-flu'. But it isn't the same cold and you're unlikely to suffer from that one ever again (because there's thousands of cold viruses, you could catch a different one every week for 1000 weeks and there'd still be thousands left to bugger you up).

So when someone says, 'this bloody cold will never go away' you just know that they're suffering from related ailments connected to them having had a cold, which have then rolled onto another cold.

Clear?

Good.

Now, as many people who know me will be aware I have COPD or in my case Chronic Bronchitis and it is incurable and it will rob me of years of potential life. It is what my mum died of and in 2012 I discovered I would follow suit. Being diagnosed with it at 50 was scary and as my mum was 64 when she died it is even scarier, considering I moan incessantly about how fast time flies.

I addressed the problem immediately and stopped smoking on August 10, 2012. I have fallen off the wagon a few times, the worst being last summer when positives turned to negatives and instead of falling into another bout of depression (another problem with COPD is you tend to get chronic illness depression) I started smoking again, specifically my old friend cannabis.

It was done almost as a celebratory thing. Look that sounds twisted but bear with me. I was initially diagnosed as 'severe' which is also scary seeing as there are only four stages of COPD and the final one has the word 'palliative' associated to it and if you don't know what that means, Google it. When, last spring, I was told I was now 'moderate' it appeared that 3½ years of cessation had been extremely beneficial; my COPD nurse was really surprised and over the moon and my lung capacity charts were incredibly heartening. So when I lost my new job in May, I went round a friend's house, got stoned. I mean, my lungs were better now so why not let my hair down?

It didn't take me long to realise that I was probably now doing far more damage than ever before, because I was now looking to socialise with people I know who smoke. Hell, I even got a job in a taxi firm with NO no smoking policy in their offices. I've now fallen back onto the wagon, which considering what happened is probably a good thing, but for a couple of months I was stupid.

Now, here's the irony. If I get bronchitis (and I'm prone to about two bouts a year, which is really surprisingly good considering the word 'chronic' and what it means), it has this rather bizarre effect on me. For about three days, until the shit [read: phlegm] really hits the fan, I can breathe better than I have for about seven or eight years. I've often joked that if I could have the bronchitis without the infection I'd be happy because I don't seem to suffer from the 'obstructive' part anywhere near as badly as I do when I'm 'healthy'. I also joke with people that the thing that scares me the most isn't a chest infection, but a simple, common or garden ... COLD.

My specialist nurse practitioner said to me during my first appointment after diagnosis that colds were not good for COPD sufferers and they were as serious as the flu was for the elderly (now I have regular flu shots every year and I've had the pneumonia shot which keeps me free from that for a few more years). I said to the wife two weeks ago when she had two days off of work with a really horrid cold bug that I couldn't remember the last time I had an actual cold virus. Tempting fate or what?

On Thursday, I woke up at about 8am with that slightly 'electric' feeling coursing through my veins; that 'uh-oh, something aint right' feeling and when I hacked up a load of unpleasant coloured mucous (it's something I've grown accustomed to, not the unpleasant colour, just the mucous) and my throat felt like it had been caressed with razor-blades, my first thought was bronchitis. It wasn't.

I'd started to feel vaguely human again by Thursday night I figured I'd maybe picked up one of those 24 hour bugs, but Friday morning arrived and I again felt like shit - but worse. I still did my stuff, the chores around the house, the cooking, dog walks, but by Friday afternoon I felt bloody awful, like I shouldn't have done any of the things I usually do. By the evening I was proper ill.

We'll skip Saturday for a second and fast forward to today. I got up at 9am and by mid afternoon I was feeling pretty good. By 11pm - while writing this - I was pretty much back to normal, with only the residual effects giving me grief. I have a sore chest from all the tickly coughing and I'm a wee bit snotty still, but honestly, I feel considerably better. (although in the two hours since writing this all and then taking a break from it I have had two almighty sneezing and coughing fits...)

On Saturday morning, I really thought I was going to die and when I didn't I realised that I now knew how I was eventually going to die. From the common cold. I am a Martian. I must be....

One of the worst things about getting old is the need to have to get up in the night, sometimes more than once, to have a pee. Despite the cold weather, it's never really been that much of a problem, even if I sometimes would forget to breathe while peeing because I was so cold and had something akin to an asthma attack as a result. It sounds stupid but apparently I'm far from unique on this front, except most people who do it (or don't as the case may be) don't have chronic respiratory problems...

I take something called a carbocisteine, which, without going into fine detail, helps me shift unwanted junk off my chest, especially in the morning, because at night my airways produce lots of stuff to protect them from the fact they are permanently damaged - this isn't anywhere as positive as it sounds. However, at 8.15am, it had been over 8 hours since my last dose and after walking downstairs to get the paper and take my morning tablets, I realised that I could barely breathe. In fact, I couldn't catch my breath at all and anyone who is asthmatic without an inhaler will tell you, when you can't breathe you panic and if you panic you forget about breathing and a normally vicious circle turns into a psychopathic nutcase of a circle. I've managed to train myself to calm down and override the panic, so imagine what was going through my mind when I discovered that not only was I panicking, but I couldn't calm myself down and I started to realise I was suffocating.

Oh boy... think you've been scared? Try imagining you're suffocating...

Also, just to add insult to injury, it was cold on Saturday morning, very cold, and one of my triggers to calming myself down is to wrap myself in something warm to focus on. I was standing in the kitchen, freezing my arse off and I couldn't breathe. I had visions of the wife finding me dead on the kitchen floor. I kept having blasts on my Ventolin, but as any COPD expert will tell you, it's better for asthma sufferers and not a lot of good for anything else, and it wasn't working. I couldn't even hyper-ventilate, which is also a trick to combat it, because I couldn't get enough breath to do it fast enough.

Eventually, I managed to get myself under control, but not before scaring the living crap out of myself. I did it by literally remembering something from the Dr Strange film we'd watched the night before, about having to learn to do something or you'd die. I focused the cold out and slowly, but surely began to breathe deeper and more evenly. The rest of Saturday was awful, truly awful and I then had another, less severe, attack at 3.45am Sunday morning. Fortunately that took a couple of minutes to get over - as I was in a warm bad - the one on Saturday morning took a lot longer to get under control (or it might not have been, it just felt like an eternity).

Some time in the future I am going to get a cold at a point where I am not as strong as I am currently and it will kill me. I no longer have any doubt about it. I think that it might have been exacerbated by my bit of falling off the wagon in the summer, but the reality is colds are up there with cancer, heart attacks and being shot by an American as potentially deadly things.

As a result I've decided to be pro-active. Up until last summer I'd got myself to a pretty fit level, probably fitter than I had been for a long time. I strengthened all the core muscles, I walked 2 miles a day with the dogs and I pushed myself to the point where my recovery levels even impressed me, but I potentially ruined it, so I have to do it all again, even though I'm older and have probably done some more irreparable damage.

I've enquired about Tai Chi, as this has been recommended by a number of organisations and I've been encouraged to join a COPD choir - which presently scares me more than dying. Once the residue of the cold is gone and I've avoided every living being for three weeks so I don't catch another, I am going to start pushing myself again, even if it kills me...

I kind of feel that I'd rather die of a heart attack doing something, than in a wheelchair, with an oxygen mask on gasping for breath that never reaches my shrivelled lungs. I'm never going to do anything really strenuous again, but I'm 55 in April, I probably won't want to. I'd really like 15 more years, anything over 70 would be a bonus and a half. To be able to do that I need to look after myself and avoid cold viruses. The problem is there's 1000s of the buggers and there's only one, quite damaged, me. I've always liked crappy odds...

Monday, January 23, 2017

Sexually-ambivalent Wallpaper

God moves in mysterious ways...

Really? I would never have guessed.

The reason I say this is because according to one website He's (or She's) been stealing all the creative geniuses (Bowie, Prince, etc) to create a new Earth where everyone and everything is at peace and loves you all. The writer of the 'article' also claims that anyone who died in 2016 is going to this new utopia. That means Lemmy missed out by a few days and my mother-in-law goes despite being neither creative nor peaceful...

Other things I saw pop up in my social media feeds [don't even go there] included a Venusian who used to work for the US government, THC found on meteors and that the UK by-passed living and chose to go straight to perpetual purgatory. I'm sure one of them is fairly accurate and I'd put my money on the Venusian...

The thing I find ironic about fake news is that anyone who has ever read a newspaper (specifically the Sun, the Mail or the Express) has been reading fake news for decades. It seems that the largely unrestricted Internet has pissed off the other media - who probably thought they had a monopoly on making shit up - and it's now a 'problem'. Am I the only person here to see this particular irony?

Actually, the real irony here is that the world has gone so surreal and bonkers that fake news can even be considered real; but who could have forecast some of the crazy shit that has happened?

I was slightly bemused to hear that paracetamol is about as effective a pain killer as a punch in the mouth is a sign of friendship. I was even more slightly bemused to hear that the NHS uses it and spends far too much money using it.

I was equally bemused that our current government's default position of blaming everyone else for problems despite it being their fault to begin with still hasn't been seen through by, well, everyone. Or perhaps it has but no one can be arsed to argue any more? There is also that other default position of NEVER ANSWERING ANY QUESTION - EVER!

Changing the subject, just to be contrary for a minute (yeah, I know, very rebellious of me), I feel I need to throw my 2 cents in about Sherlock...
Back in the late 1980s, there was this independent comic book called Elementals and, at the time, it was fairly cutting edge and quite different for essentially a superhero team book. It was also relatively successful and built up a host of fans, not least because the creator, a guy called Bill Willingham, had a growing reputation for being very left field. He caused something of a mild controversy (which I expect would have raged far worse in the Internet age) by writing an editorial thanking his growing army of fans for their support, but asking them, in a very candid way, to stop asking for stuff to happen in the comic. He was growing tired of people asking for so-and-so to fight blah, or girl to fall in love with boy and he explained that Elementals was his story, his idea, his property and his decision where he takes the story and for the love of God stop asking for shit that won't ever happen.

A lot of people didn't like this attitude and argued that without the fans Elementals would not be where it was. Frankly, fans think this all the time, yet in Bizarro World where they actually get to write their favourite comic/film/TV series, no one can understand why it's rubbish, incoherent and makes no narrative sense at all. If you have a product and 10 people like it and all ten people make different suggestions about how to improve it and you incorporate all those things, what will you have? Something better or some kind of hybrid abomination of wishful thinking?

Indeed.

Sherlock has come in for criticism from just about all corners. Not overwhelmingly and it has been outweighed by positives, but still far more dissenting voices than you would ever have believed possible after the fawning reviews when it launched. The problem with things like social media is it gives twats like me a platform to air their opinions and if they are controversial enough or I have enough friends, I will be heard [seen] by more people than if I was just down the pub with my mates talking bollocks. I also know I've watched things that people have had orgasms over and I've walked away thinking that part of my life has been wasted that I'll never get back. The thing is as I'm getting older I'm appreciating more and more that this kind of thing is all about personal taste and that we all differ in our opinions of things. Why spoil your day/week/life by getting wound up by your own dislike of something? It's about as productive as raging against time and about as effective.

Sherlock is essentially action/adventure TV and is designed to entertain. If it doesn't meet your expectations it's your problem. It's why ultimately the idea of a critic stinks in the 21st century, because everyone can be one and to varying degrees of ability.

A bit like vegetarians and carnivores and their poo.

If people want to rage against something the way some of them raged against Sherlock then they should, maybe, focus on the injustice surrounding us and growing exponentially every day; but somehow people can turn a blind eye to suffering especially if they can shout hysterically about a bloody TV show.

I recently said I hoped the Netflix TV show The OA didn't turn out to be a load of old twaddle. It did, but I find myself in a strange position. I neither feel as cheated by it (as some people did) nor did I expect resolution from it. I found it was a refreshing change to have a lead character who wasn't a Hollywood glamour model and supporting characters who were very flawed, emotionally crippled, ugly, overweight and had gender and sexuality issues. For every frustrating thing about the series there was - and boy, there were many - the feeling that those of us isolated, alienated or ignored by mainstream society also have an important place to play in the world was far greater than the 'mystery' of Prairie Johnson aka The OA.

I reconnected with an old friend recently. He'll be 58 soon and makes me sound as though I'm as fit as an Olympic athlete. He's currently in a relationship with a very glamorous 34 year old TV personality... This morning I've been contemplating arthritis, prostate examinations (if I was in the USA some doctor would have shoved his finger up my arse by the time I was 50 and charged me a mortgage for doing it) and the fact I have to get up twice in the night to have a wee. I'm thinking none of those things would make a 34 year-old TV personality feel the slightest bit attracted to me let alone horny and begging for it...

Or maybe she isn't and this is a tantric thing... Or she has a secret desire to work in a care home? Or he's hung like a fucking donk... but that'll be God, moving in mysterious ways, again...

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Vicar Shits on Baby's Face - You'll Never Guess What Happened Next?

Just testing a theory...

***

A couple of times recently I've been reminded about my age and my lack of technological know how. Several people have informed me that everyone (I know and don't know) is now streaming everything and no one has record collections any more, they all keep it in the 'cloud' and play it anywhere they want, whenever they want with a thing called a 'playlist'.

Honestly, I'm over 50. I don't want, need or desire that shit.

I have a cupboard of vinyl I'm never likely to play ever again, but I'll be buggered if I'm getting rid of them (especially as record prices are pathetic compared to say that of collectable comic books) and one day, you never know, I might treat myself to a turntable.

I also have shelves and shelves and shelves of CDs; about 1000 to hazard a guess and this became a kind of point of jovial derision from a pal just before Christmas, because he couldn't understand why I just didn't upload everything onto my computer and claw back the valuable space being taken up by all those discs (he was suggesting I do this with just downloads, not pre-recorded CDs) and he argued that if anything happened to the hard drive, if I didn't have a decent back up I could just as easily re-download the stuff, or just never bother and listen to it via the net.

My stock answer is and always has been, I like to have something physical. It's probably why I was so resistant to making Borderline Press books digital, because in my world a book or a comic is this physical thing you hold in your hands, you can smell, you enjoy the entire feel and experience. It is why I have about 200 extra CDs containing MP3 libraries of things I probably won't ever listen to (again) but feel the need to own. It's there because if I ever get an urge to listen to some obscure Norwegian band or say a discography of early John Martyn, I know where to look (even if it takes longer to find now than downloading an album illegally).

Now, I have toyed with the idea of transferring it all to a portable hard drive that I can plug into other technology and have access to it (that way I can still keep the original CDs but tucked away in the loft or some place until I need to access them again, if ever), but because home habits have changed since the birth of the CD, I find that [our] listening habits have changed the most. Once, the stereo was the focal point of my living room, in many ways it took precedent over the TV - music was far more important than soaps or sport - but as computer technology developed and the internet appeared and then Napster, Apple, Spotify and those other slightly evil companies, who all became synonymous with music. It is a rare thing that the stereo in the living room is ever used now; if we want to listen to the radio we do it through the TV and the idea of putting a CD on and just sitting there doing other things seems to have become something from a bygone age, like watching Top of the Pops.

Then an interesting wrinkle appeared last week, something which I might have explained away as cheap technology. I mentioned that a band I liked released a new album in 2015 and I only discovered it existed the weekend before Christmas (and to add insult to injury it was so un-patronised I couldn't find a single illegal download of it anywhere on the net). My mate lent me the album. It's about as common as me playing CDs in the lounge that I actually put a proper - shop bought - album into my PC and within a track or two something odd happened...

Not only was I taken with the album, I was impressed with the sound quality. Now CDs are anathema to vinyl heads, a little like the way I can't get my head around the way that young people listen to music in 2017 - tinny little phones playing even tinnier music - yet here I was sat here listening to an album that sounded richer and full of depth. I ripped a copy and a little later played it back, and then played the CD again - using the same PC music playing app. The difference was quite audible and made me realise that I was in a strangely unique situation in that I had the foresight to compare the CD version to the 320kps version I'd ripped; if I download music I don't have that point of comparison.

Now, take one of my favourite albums of 2016. I received authorised WAV and mp3 versions, downloaded from the album's creator (for review), but unlike this guy's debut album I didn't have it as a physical CD and because I still haven't bought the new album I'm not totally sure that my wife's description of one track sounding like 'clowns having a fight' is going to sound at all like that played through my ghetto blaster, CD drive or car stereo.

Is it any surprise that vinyl is now selling more than it has for 25 years? Not only is the ANALOGUE sound much more aesthetically pleasing to the ear, there's a surprising amount of depth that digital can't copy, the same way. Yet, here I am suggesting that the humble (and soon to be obsolete) CD is as much of an improvement on MP3 files as vinyl is to the CD. I'm sure if your granny knew how and why to suck eggs she wouldn't need a manual...

I have always prided myself in the fact that while I illegally download 90% of my music, anything I really like I then go and purchase. There are bands who would never have got my money had I never got one of their albums from a torrent. Ironically, I would never have got into Steven Wilson and his band the Porcupine Tree without an illegal torrent, so he would never have got any of the money I spent on him had I been as tight-arsed about illegal downloads as he is.

A lot of my illegal downloads are digital versions of albums I own. I bought the things in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, I'm not paying for them again.

The point I'm dancing around is for a little while my mate's suggestion that I could have every bit of music I own in a little portable box sounded not an unreasonable idea (just so long as I could be happy that I had sufficient back ups), especially if the idea is to wire (or wireless) up the house so that I can access stuff through other technology. It would probably resurrect the old pastime of listening to music together in the lounge, especially when we don't want to watch TV and I commit to spending less time on the internet.

Oh and there's something else... I don't have very good tech. My speakers are cheap, my sound card is only slightly above adequate and I use a fairly standard and generic music player with basic settings. I pretty much always resisted the idea of going the full-on electronic route purely because of my shit gear. It then dawned on me that the album I borrowed from a friend was played on said shit gear and it didn't sound shit... I don't play CDs through my PC because I have a perfectly adequate Sony portable CD/Radio/Cassette thing less than 18 inches from my left hand. In my office I have the albums of one of my fave bands, on this PC I have these albums which I downloaded presumably to prove the point that it's easier to download something than turn round and rummage through 1000 CDs to find one thing in particular.

I played both versions. The CDs - bought in the mid 1990s - sounded considerably better than the FLAC (apparently CD quality files) downloads, even with my monkey-metal speakers... Apart from the fact that I was thinking I could eventually buy all Cardiacs material and hear it all like the first time, it also made me realise that having everything on computer file - whatever claims are made about which is better than the other - is a little like having photocopies of an artist's works. It has everything you need, but is maybe lacking in specific detail. If you squint hard enough you can hear the sampling...

Now, I'm also aware that anyone reading this is probably wondering if stating the bleeding obvious is going to be my blog theme for 2017, because if you're old enough you'll know much of what I've said already. I just wonder if for the sake of convenience we've allowed our standards to drop and with barely a whimper?

Waaay back when the century was young, I was on a forum with some like-minded chums, one of which was extolling the brilliance of TV at the time; how it was so much better than it has ever been before and I sat there thinking not only was the guy a plonker, he had also allowed himself to be swept up by the hype. I accused him of having allowed his standards to drop in the face of too much inferior product and the need to categorise. I was, not for the first or last time, called a miserable curmudgeonly old cunt who needed to lighten up...

Then recently the wife and I watched Edge of Darkness again, considered by many to be one of the top 3 TV dramas of the 1980s. It wasn't at all how I remembered it and it has dated terribly, like a Howard Jones single or the Boy George look. It was littered with absolutely awful (testosterone driven) dialogue; some really contrived situations and seemed to ooze '80s smugness. In short, had it arrived on screens in 2017 the way it did in the early 1980s, it would have been dismissed faster than Mrs Brown's Boys.

Measuring quality in a subjective setting is a personal choice; and time and memories change, distorting views and altering our perception; the same applies to growing accustomed to listening to lo-quality. However, if you can actually, physically, determine something is better by the quality on offer that is a different and objective thing and I think today's yoof (and a few of yesterday's) have slightly devalued music quality to the point where it has seeped into all of our lives. Elevator music quality is now the sound of the world and while many of us enjoyed pirate copies of blockbuster films back in the good old VHS days, it was so much better seeing it on TV or better still at the cinema. I discovered we still still have that kind of divide today.

One final point: I also don't think the sound quality applies to people trying to make money in music. Even The Guardian has latched onto brands rather than artists or genres. It's almost like the music is secondary to the brand appeal, so very little of the real music that is produced in the 21st century actually gets any air time... Unless of course there's a brand to go along with it. It's no longer music but cynical marketing with something rarely innovative at the end apart from people telling you how innovative it is.

***

Now, here's the weird one. When I wrote the opening paragraph of this, it was my intention to actually talk about radio and why, like the old-style music industry, it appears to be entering something of a swansong.

Listening figures continue to fall, less people listen to music radio because they have their own customised playlists or for variety they'll listen to a friend's (almost identical) playlist, or some artist... or brand's playlist. I can't help think that young people are as interested in radio as they are in serialised weekly television.

For example; I've grow increasingly disappointed by 6Music's output, because I believe it barely scratches the surface of alternate music (based on the station's supposed demographic) and spends far too much time promoting genres that Radio 1Xtra was created for and also seems, especially during the day, to want to be more like 1970s Radio 1 or 1990s Radio 2 but still playing too much populist 21st century shite. I really don't give a fuck how so-and-so is doing new things in hip hop or RnB; that should be 1Xtra's brief, not the god awful Lauren fucking Laverne, who is marginally more exciting than Mary Ann Hobbs, who simply just makes me wonder how these people ever got on the radio... I know Tom Ravenscroft is John Peel's son, but other famous people's children have been removed from the TV or radio for being much better and more charismatic...

So, this morning, in a vain attempt to reconnect with modernity I thought I'd try and find an internet/digital radio station that ticked 75% of my boxes (because expecting radio to tick anything greater is like expecting Middlesex Cricket Club to win football's World Cup - impossible for many reasons...).

My first port of call was Last.FM, which I once used regularly and is to 'blame' for a number of bands I now like based on their similarities to other bands I already liked. Obviously I can't remember the last time I went to Last.FM but I was sure I had it bookmarked, but couldn't find it. When I found the site via a search engine I didn't understand it. I had no bloody idea at all what a scrobble is/was/does and I couldn't find how to play a radio station or anything and when I finally managed to get it to play something it opened a link to a small You Tube video... In the immortal words of every young person ever - WTF? Look, I know I'm 54 and a self-confessed Luddite, but, come on... Websites shouldn't read like Albanian farming manuals!

Five minutes of trying other Bing suggestions, such as Jango and two others with instantly forgettable names and I decided to look at the free channels available on my (cheap and free) VLC media player. I (later) found out that almost 300 stations available at any given time will have as little as 0 listeners, on a daily basis, and that of the literally thousands of stations available many are duplicated, huge swathes are run by companies that flood adverts all over the stream (several you have to listen to at least 30 seconds of advert before you even find out if you want to continue listening - and if you hit refresh or back or even pause, the ad has to be played again).

Literally an hour of the 21st century equivalent of channel hopping yielded a monstrous fuck all. I found nothing that grabbed me by the balls or made me get all priapic - musically speaking, of course. Plus a number of 'specific' genre channels were playing music that I would not have put into that genre. For someone as bloody anal-retentive as me this was just a load of shit.

I couldn't find anything that seemed remotely up my street or that looked like it might introduce me to something different - because that was the main reason for wanting to do it in the first place. To listen to something new that I might not even be remotely tempted by. To find a new North Atlantic Oscillation, Blow Up Hollywood, Porcupine Tree, Ulrich Schnauss, Manual, Nordic Giants or whoever.

I am totally amazed some of these musicians continue ploughing their furrows in a world that ignores their genius. I know, why do I continue to write despite the fact I'm never likely to be paid to do it again? I do it because I enjoy it and by whatever Gods might exist if I could play musical instruments I'd be just as dedicated and creative even if no one wanted to share my own brilliance.

***

One last thing about creativity and ting...

Umpteen months after saying she'd read my book, a window of opportunity appeared where the wife could read and edit my book. Then she chickened out and came up with an excuse (that sounded very Hall-like in its 'logic'). I joked that it might be a multi-million selling book in waiting and her reaction to this felt more like a 'Yeah, but what if it isn't?'

I swear to whatever gods there might once have been if I end up pegging it and then she reads it and thinks it's brilliant, how is that going to be of any benefit to me? Huh?

Monday, January 09, 2017

The Futility of Existence

The New Year is just over a week old and I already want to slash my wrists - length ways - and put my face into an industrial blender...

If someone had said to me as recently as last year that 'you can't educate against ignorance,' I would have glared at them with added incredulity. I can't say I feel the same way now. I don't know if I've just been unlucky, but I seem to have witnessed a degree of fuckwittery this week that has all but shattered my faith in humanity surviving until the 22nd century.

Honestly, I'm not going to waste your time with some of the unbelievable examples I've witnessed, for a number of reasons, but my sanity is the top one and your spare time is another; let's just say that the prospect of moving to Scotland and semi-isolation was facing a crisis of faith, but yesterday I was seeing if there were any affordable islands and ruing the fact we haven't colonised other planets...

Actually, I will give you one example, basically because it perfectly illustrates the surreal nature of the world today: I was watching the FA Cup and on one of those MBM things I sometimes follow it was suggested that the game we were watching was 'as dull as brown wallpaper' - a fair surmise. Someone took this personally and accused the MBM of being negative and was going to boycott it from that point. Someone asked what was negative about a factually accurate report that was echoed by the TV pundits. The person who took it personally then accused people of insulting him and that because he was a season ticket holder he had more right than others to have an opinion. The truth appears to be that he expected others to agree with him and when they didn't he accused them of insulting him - because no one agreed with him. Is that just plain ignorance or some kind of underlying psychopathy?

I suppose current affairs has something to do with it - fake news, outrageous opinions, intolerance - but it's really getting to the point where my underlying feeling is if I don't disconnect from this mad fucking world I am going to buy a Kalashnikov and off a few dozen twats before I get taken out... The Age of Reason has been replaced by the Age of Opinion (and we all know opinions are like arseholes, it's just some are stinkier than others).

As 2016 descended into some black comedic satire of existence, lives lived and governed by thoughts and feelings took over; pragmatism, facts and rationale all ignored in favour of things 'which felt right' - like Brexit, Trump and the demonisation of the disenfranchised, and the fact the year clicked up one more hasn't changed the world, it's still the same and getting worse.

Then I discovered that even those of us who feel we're skirting under the Manipulation Radar are anything but; because even if we're not playing the new Game of Life, it [the Game] knows everything about us that it will ever need. Big Brother exists just as Orwell predicted, the thing is Big Brother is a capitalist business model rather than a government.

Faced with ignorance on a grand scale; intolerance at levels not seen for 80 years and prospects on the horizon that make taking an acid bath sound fun, it leads me to ask: what is the point? I made a couple of odd resolutions on December 31st. The first was I was going to try and refrain from clicking 'Like' on anything Facebook related and aside from music, I was going to post nothing that promoted anything other than my own brand (ie: my blogs). After getting involved in a number of futile exchanges at the end of the year, I reinforced my decision NOT to get involved and to stay civil and I've even chatted with a friend about how to survive without social media.

Even if I profess to not spend much time on Facebook, it is open on my browser whenever my browser is open, therefore I'm always just a heartbeat away from it. I can't say the same for other social media - I still struggle to even understand the significance of Twitter even though I'm on it; I mean, its very nature means that unless you spend forever following it you only ever get a snapshot of its world.

But the major problem I have is a refusal to sync my phone with my computer and therefore my social media world. Back in the 1990s, when I worked for that man and spent a lot of time on the telephone, we often used to joke about the mobile phone adverts telling us that we can now speak to people while we're on the beach and we'd look at each other and say 'why the hell would we want to do anything like that when we're on the beach?' ... Well, that's how I feel about my mobile device being a mini version of my PC. My mobile is for phone calls, text messages and bad photographs. I occasionally use the browser on it to check football scores or news, but that is it. I can go out without my mobile and never realise it and I like that; I think that liberates me a little.

Now, I have a desire to have my entire (new) house wired up and wireless. I want PCs and laptops to be linked to TVs and stereos and even mobile devices, but not so I can always know what So-and-So thinks about Wassname at the touch of a button; it's so I can watch or listen to things without having to transfer them onto some solid form of conveyance. I am also aware that it is my age that dictates this despite knowing many people older than me who are far more tech-minded than I've any desire to be (Just look at Miriam Margoyles, who at 76 knows more about the workings of computers than I know about my own crotch).

I also have always chosen to ignore adverts on the TV or radio, so I tend to have ad blockers on browsers and any other thing I can find that will limit my exposure to shit I don't want to see to a minimum. I have always believed that if I want something I'll go and buy it; I don't want or need something telling me what I need or should want; if anything adverts turn me off of things rather than peak my interest. That's also my age and as I get older the last thing I want is to take up my valuable minutes with some shit that an 18-year-old doesn't batter an eyelid at. I appreciate that everyone is selling something, but if I could have a shit filter on my net life it would the busiest thing in my real life.

Depending on what mood I'm in, we're either headed towards war, economic oblivion or social disorder and that's just me being optimistic. Couple that with some of the frankly surreal nonsense I'm seeing friends getting engrossed in, the growing number of old friends showing slightly far right wing opinions, and everyone's futile arguments with people who DON'T WANT THE TRUTH because they don't like it; they'd rather believe in unicorns that shit rainbows and spunk cash in the mouth of whoever is prepared to felate it.

I actually quite like life, it's probably one of the main reasons I never offed myself during the worst months of my depression, and I can't help thinking that if I can just come up with ways to entertain myself that do not involve any form of interaction on the 'social' side of the internet (but not stop using it because it does have its benefits) then I think I'll put a couple of years on my life. It does mean I will have to rely on old fashioned means of communication such as emails, telephones and in person, but I figure the less time I spend looking at memes the better my life will be. If I get what I want this year then I'm going to have to spend time doing stuff, deliberate social media withdrawal might be the best practice.

But therein lies the problem. An old acquaintance of mine, a guy called Chris*, did his PhD on Technology Dependence and the addictive nature of social media and he concluded (in 2009) that once you've become enveloped in social media it is akin to drug withdrawal to try and kick the habit. I can see this because as much as I fucking hate it at the moment, I'm a bit scared/worried about not being on it and this has nothing to do with FOMO (Fear Of Missing out) and more to do with filling a void that I would fill if I had something to fill it with...

The bottom line is just how much of it I can do without. If I went out everyday and various people came up to me and annoyed me in obstinate and childish mental ways, I'd avoid them, wouldn't I? All I need is a plan of withdrawal and interesting (and possibly new) stuff to keep me occupied. I do have a working plan of action, but even that involves remaining connected and just that simple fact makes technology addiction as real as drug addiction. Years after stopping smoking, I still sometimes find myself (usually) imagining a contrived circumstance where I can smoke again and that usually ends up with a week or two falling off the wagon, if I don't push the urge back where it belongs. The idea of not having that Facebook crutch has a similar effect on me and that is probably more worrying than anything else.

It doesn't help that it is January and a time of the year when we're all (except my mate Roger) desperately scrambling around to try and find something to occupy our time that doesn't involve watching shit TV and eating the rest of what was left over from the festive season. With the prospect of cold, snow, still gloomy days ahead of us, what could be better than sitting in your warm [insert somewhere here] gloating over how bad the world is, or being all sympathetic to someone whose life is being played out for everyone to see. Don't get me wrong, I'm just as guilty of it and I wonder if others feel, months down the line, as bloody stupid about it as I do now? Using social media as an intervention tool or a method of discussion regarding mental or economic health is a bit vulgar, even if I've done it on numerous occasions.

Social media is at best facile and at worst psychopathic and it's all just a tiny snapshot of everything because, especially with Facebook, you'll never know for sure about everything that is happening because it is algorithmically censored. I discovered this recently when a) I discovered a band I'm 'subscribed' to released an album in August 2015 and b) when I clicked on the Timeline of a friend and saw the legend 'Stories you might not have seen' and there were countless posts that had never made it to my own page, despite me 'following' this person. Facebook pretty much decides what you can and can't see, but because the average person has a specific number of friends unless you have all the time in the world it is difficult to keep track. Now, my infamous alter-ego has very few 'friends' because it is a shell account (originally created to play myself at Scrabble), yet even the real people on it are limited in their exposure. I see, at most, 50% of my own posts on my dummy ID page, and part of me thinks a snapshot is a good thing (because you don't really want to know everything about someone because that gets a bit ... stalker-y), but another part of me thinks that because of it there is a subtle manipulation going on that we're not aware of because it never dawns on us.

In an odd way, the internet once represented anarchy in its purest form; now it is just like everything else, designed to cull as much information from us to work out how the rich can screw more money out of you (I have no money, so they're getting fuck all from me apart from my time and my reprogrammed mind and ...).

*I lost touch with Chris because he isn't on any social media, (he also, rather heroically, doesn't play games on either his PC or a games machine), answers emails about 12 times a year and admits that despite teaching computer science, having a PhD in computing and the ability to dismantle and reassemble a PC with his eyes glued shut, he spends almost no time at all on any of his computers, or phone, preferring to do things that wouldn't have seemed out of place in 1975.


Tuesday, January 03, 2017

The Art of Disassociation

To suggest I have a habit of falling out with people is a wee bit of an understatement. I have both destroyed good friendships and been on the receiving end of destroyer's of good friendships. It's pretty much human nature and not something I've let bother me over the last few years. Once upon a time (and in one specific case even today) I would obsess about 'what the hell happened?' or 'how did it get here?' and then, gradually, as I got older I started to realise that it was all part of the human process and that if you can fall out with someone and never make up then there couldn't have been much there in the first place (or usually that is the case, when it comes to family the boundaries get blurred and riven with expectations and disappointments).

I'm not reformed. I still get involved in situations that could end up with people not talking, but, last year, on January 1st or thereabouts, I decided to try and not be confrontational with people, whether they were strangers or old friends. And, by and large, I succeeded and 2016 ended up being a year where I 'fell out' with very few people. This was down to me and the training of my knee-jerk reactions to sit in the corner and bite its metaphoric tongue. The reason was simple, I was wasting far too much time, energy and health on trying to convince people who didn't want convincing of the errors of their ways. A bit conceited, I know, but sometimes when you know you are right, you want others to be as fair and even as you.

Ten years ago, I fell out with one of my best friends. I can't tell you why because for ten years I have had no idea. None of our mutual friends know why; even the guy's ex-wife was puzzled as to why it happened. It was almost a 'cut-my-nose-off-to-spite-my-face' move because, essentially, he alienated himself from a chunk of the rest of his friends because of his sudden (or maybe slow burning) dislike of me. Hey, I've always been Mr Marmite so this isn't something that has ever bothered me greatly. People don't like me. I got over it, it's just never happened with someone I've known for 30 odd years.

Another friend (in 2015) fell out with me on social media; I called the daughter of a friend of his 'a stupid little girl', because without any knowledge of her age or her life I took umbrage to her apparent support of Nigel Farage based on the fact she found him amusing. I got pilloried for insulting a 16 year old. My argument was she shouldn't have attempted to trivialise a serious discussion with a stupid, naive and, without context, an inflammatory statement. My friend demanded I apologise to the kid. I thought that was way over the top, especially considering I had no idea who she was or what her family were to my friend. I refused; he got arsey; I got arse-ier; end of 15 years of friendship.

Social media might be many things but it is essentially the gateway to hate and anger. In May, a friend who many of my other friends have also known for over 30 years, 'unfriended' me (and several others) on Facebook. Not really a falling out as she fully intended to attend my 30th anniversary party, but I found out through a third party it was because she was going to vote Leave and was fed up with all my pro-Remain 'propaganda'. She has since reconnected with the other ostracised Remainers, but I wouldn't accept her friend request. I just hope her children and grandchildren don't suffer too much from her wilful ignorance.

With the exception of that first example (because there hasn't been closure on it), I'd not allowed the circumstances to bother me, so when 2016 came around I made a conscious decision to not be confrontational and to try and be rational and fair when commenting on controversial social media topics. This included definitely not getting into slanging matches with right wing wankers and walking away from threads and conversations where someone I know are, IMHO, embarrassing themselves. I did remarkably well and I could easily challenge anyone to come up with an example of where I didn't follow this 'resolution' (family rows are exempt here, because I'm quick to argue with my family because of the amount of Conservatives and UKippers there are amongst them).

I made a big deal to my fellow Remain voters that it was essential they kept clear heads when discussing the EU; that getting into rows tended to polarise people's opinions rather than change them and that using facts was the best way forward (how naive of me not to realise that 'facts' would become a burden). Obviously that approach didn't work out well for me or any of my rational friends and as a result of the referendum the levels of anger and intolerance on social media, comments sections and discussion threads were ratcheted up and it appeared that anyone was a fair target, especially if they were classed as 'hand-wringing liberals'.

We've seen and heard lots of discussion about 'bubbles' and how we tend to surround ourselves with similar-minded people, because it makes us feel better knowing we're not alone in the way we think or feel. We tend not to see bubbles where people are diametrically opposite what we believe in - why should we, unless it's to 'Know Thine Enemy'. During November and December I witnessed hate being cranked up to new and even more vile levels and I believed it was a right wing ignorance thing. I then started to see right wing arseholes justifying their shameful behaviour by suggesting that there were just as many vile and hateful left wingers out there and, you know, I thought this was just more right wing propaganda aimed at deluding the ignorant into believing that there was a certain 'honesty' about being a fascist. Freedom of speech was thrown around like a vacant sun bed in Malaga and the more I witnessed the more I started to believe that even social media was now being manipulated by fakes, frauds and people paid by a political party to just be trolls. My conspiracy theories were verging on the paranoid and delusional all because any rational explanation for the surreal direction the world had taken was way out of my reach.

Don't get me wrong, I also believe that the left wing are as covertly active on social media as the right wing; but because I tend to agree with these people I can't see them in the same light as someone demanding 'a hard Brexit' so we can 'take back control' and 'kick out the EU scum who steal our jobs, claim our dole and have forced the NHS to breaking point.' But they are in many way just as bad and just as nasty and hateful - and it really pains me to admit that.

The success of my year of trying not to get wound up by wankers was almost complete. I had not fallen out with anyone (apart from one of my nieces and her dad, my brother); I'd had no big arguments and I'd tried to be as fair and non-inflammatory as I could. That was until Christmas...

By the beginning of November I'd gotten to the stage where I was so disillusioned with the internet, I didn't even feel inclined to try and tell a twat he was a twat. If I could see it, then cleverer people than me would too.

Everything I used to get angry and frustrated about with social media had begun to disappear; 2016 had been such a fucked up year that getting angry at a wanker seemed futile. But just as I believed I'd got through the year, it all welled together again to form a cloud of anger that my good sense did not stop.

I watched a raft of reasonable people try, in vain, to make someone see that what they had posted was homophobic, bitter, twisted and predominantly done to attract attention. Some guy (I could tell you his name or link you to his page or website, but he doesn't deserve any more attention, at all) basically suggested within 12 hours of the death of George Michael, that the singer was a collection of heinous things: a fraud, a predatory homosexual, a danger to children and a drunk driver; he even went as far as to post the lyrics of 'Wake Me Up' to prove just what a useless fraud and con artist the singer/songwriter was (despite GM having been about 18 when he wrote this multi-million selling song).

Now the man who did this needs quantifying; he claims to be gay; he claims to be either a psychologist or a psychotherapist, working for the NHS and he runs a poetry publishing house. It would also appear that he is something of a left wing attack dog, claiming to be many things that really should have endeared him to me rather than alienate. I stumbled across this offensive man because another of my Facebook friends had made a comment, a fair and even-handed comment trying to pull the man up on his rather extreme [Read: intolerant and homophobic] views. She was just one of about 40 people trying to make this man realise that not only was he generalising a situation, he was not prepared to listen to other's points of view and was doing what he accused so many of doing, not actually reading the things that were being written to him. He was insulting them and then blocking them, indiscriminately. Childlike and priggish.

I sat for almost an hour watching this attention-seeking and self-important waste of space get more irrational and offensive to people who disagreed with him; not just that, he managed to twist everything that was said to him, in a very right wing way, to fit his agenda, which appeared to be, 'I don't like George Michael so anyone that disagrees with me is either a fake, a fraud or an idiot' and he pursued this with a tenacity that would worry wolverines. In a really unexpected twist, he started accusing anyone who didn't have their entire life history mapped out on their Facebook page of being either an MI6 or CIA spy, despite the fact that many people pointed out to him that there is this 'privacy control' setting in Facebook that allows you to determine who or what sees your personal information. Our delusional friend seemed to think that if you can't have your entire life history on show for everyone to see then you are a fraud or a fake or you must have something heinous to hide.

He went one step further; accusing people of having pornography on their pages; of being right wing infiltrators, of being employed by the government to target him, personally. And all the while, the cornerstone of his argument had stopped being about how crap George Michael was and was now focused on denigrating, besmirching and insulting anyone who either didn't agree with him, or didn't have enough of their personal information in their 'About' section and around and around it went.

I'd pretty much realised before I decided to throw my two cents worth in that it was a futile attempt and the person we were all dealing with was more likely to be a mental health outpatient than a mental health worker, but I thought (wrongly) as I had run a publishing company, that I had a Wiki entry (which he doesn't) and was reasonably well known in that field, he might take my opinion with a little more gravitas than the people he was accusing of being aliens or Tory trolls. Of course, I never thought that because I have no information 'About Me' on my Facebook page that I would ever be accused of being a fake or a fraud; I mean I have a couple of dummy Facebook accounts, but I've made no secret of the fact; and I have over 400 friends and my Facebook is pretty much full of blogs and music and politics - so to be blocked and accused of being a government plant kind of incensed me - which, of course, was exactly what this attention-seeking waste of life was trying to do. He was in charge of his page, his opinions and he could say and do anything he liked, because he was IN CONTROL.

This man was quick to point out how many thousand followers he has and a trawl through his page suggested that he is extremely opinionated and in a spiteful way (something a dear and rational gay friend of mine said is often an unpleasant trait in some - not all - gay men and, oddly enough, transsexuals), so his opinions obviously flick switches with intolerant left wingers - a statement I would have argued against 12 months ago, I mean, left wingers who are intolerant? Geddouttahere.

The amount of friends and followers appeared to make him believe that he has the right to say anything he wants - a kind of power from the people attitude that often backfires - and his refusal to engage with 'genuine' people, with full histories on display, suggested to me that he'd say anything controversial to continue getting the attention he was getting. With this kind of legitimate troll, you can only imagine it must be the sexual gratification they get from being the centre of so many peoples attention.

Mutual friends of mine and the woman who's initial response drew me to it tried in vain to make this disgusting man acknowledge the valid points made; my own attempt was to ask him if he didn't support the rehabilitation of offenders, or if he had forgiveness or could accept that someone has paid their dues and deserves another chance. He wasn't having that, especially from an obvious MI6 plant... I got blocked and for a while sat in anger bordering on apoplexy. Watching far more rational people than me try with growing futility to make this opinionated and hateful human give an inch made me realise that we were all being played for suckers. We'd been swept up by a very skillful and talented left wing troll; someone just as vile, hateful and nasty as his right wing counterparts, but hiding behind some strangely constructed moral high ground riddled with flaws...

The reason I still get bouts of puzzled melancholia regarding my old friend's sudden change towards me, that is because for 20 years there had barely been a raised word between us and his change was sudden and unexpected. It might have been my fault for that change, but even my biggest critics don't think so. While I struggle at times, even today, to accept that my life no longer has this great person in it, I have had to, because there is nothing I can do or say that will make the situation better and confronting him would make it exponentially worse.

The people whose friendships have been lost through social media is something entirely different. Social media isn't about real friendship, it's about connections. The people I see and socialise with in real life, I also have social media connections with, but the majority of our interaction is away from the computer or phone. I think there's an unwritten law between me and one of my other best friends that we'll just be surreal on line with each other, because we both know how even the most innocuous sentence can be misconstrued, by the bestest of friends.

Many people stop being personal friends and become Facebook friends; people you used to see regularly are now just an ever-changing profile picture, that you interact with when they are deemed worthy by Mark Zuckerberg of appearing in your timeline. Therefore should you really waste your time with things that will probably end up giving you a tension headache than resolving someone's issues? You might have a deep sentimental 'love' for many old friends, but if the only contact you now have is through the computer, or at the few and far between actual social events that are held, then is their absence from your life that important?

I say that my old best friend's absence from my life bugs me; but the truth is it only bugs me when I'm struck by melancholia or I write something that reminds me of the absurd evening when our friendship ended. I've managed to get on with life, without him, the same way I've managed to get on with life by no longer being a party animal, or no longer smoking, or no longer doing the things that people 30 years my junior still do. That is the art of disassociation - the ability to let the things that once affected you no longer have any effect.

When was the last time you bumped into so-and-so? It's been over a year!? We must get together soon. Yes, life has a way of getting involved. Doesn't time fly? Even people you want to socialise with don't get seen as much as you might once have; and its nothing to do with kids or dogs, or jobs or anything; it's because we learn to subconsciously disassociate ourselves from the lives we used to live; which is why we can slip back into that mode when we're reunited with friends and act like you were all together yesterday rather than the last barbecue.

Think about this: we can subconsciously disassociate ourselves from the things we love; so how come we find it so hard for things we hate or don't even know? Is it because it disturbs some dark passion inside some of us? What I did to try and not get wound up by wankers began with writing a response and then deleting it - a lot tougher for me than you can imagine - then formulating a response in my head and then just metaphorically waving an arm at the screen and moving on. Like any addict, temptation sometimes got the better of me, but I kept 'be civil' as my mantra (and even the falling out with my niece was not because I got emotional and insulting). With the psychotic poet, I allowed my emotions to get the better of me, ironically over - George Michael - someone I was pretty much as ambivalent about as you can possibly be and I broke the first rule of Voltaire's secretary's law by not defending the right of a wanker to say something I didn't agree with. He won. I, along with many others, got conned and it was all because clever bastards like this guy know that there are enough idiots out there who will take his bait.

Whether you are an insidious troll under an assumed name or a overt troll with no fear of recriminations, you are still a troll and the best way to deal with trolls is to ignore them and the most likely outcome is for people to do exactly the opposite. Whether it's because they can't see what is happening or they think they can change the person saying it.

We do not live in a world where trolls are ignored and once you understand that you can ignore it more easily. I don't keep scores, but I'd say that in 2015 I probably had 50 on-line 'exchanges' that ended up with words like 'fascist', 'Nazi' and 'Tory Twat' being used, with abundance. In 2016, I had ONE exchange where I lost my cool (and that was with someone who purports to be more left wing than me...). What I've learned is, apart from the very odd slip up, I have more self-control than I thought and maybe I can go through 2017 with even less involvement with social media and therefore be happier and less stressed, regardless of what other shit life throws at me.