Truth and fiction, and Truth IN fiction.

I read all sorts of books, some fiction and some non-fiction. Almost without fail, if I am reading a novel, my wife (who only reads non-fiction) will comment “I don’t know why you bother with novels – what are you going to learn from them?”

My argument is that not only do I read novels as a way to escape from our day to day reality, but quite often there is something to learn from a novel – be it a story of morals or something else. Take the book I am currently reading “Afterlight” by Alex Scarrow.

Image result for afterlight book cover

It’s a post-apocalyptic story, set in the UK, about the chaos produced by a sudden oil shortage……especially when the shortage turns into a total lack of oil, and the consequences associated with that – no transport so no food deliveries. The power grid unable to take the load demanded once oil powered power stations were no longer on line etc etc. Rioting, looting, disease and depravity took hold – the result being a dramatic reduction in the population. The main story-line begins 10 years after the oil ran out and follows a small band of survivors who have taken up residence on an oil rig in the north sea, off the coast of Norfolk. Every second chapter however, tells the story from when the chaos first started, ten years earlier. The British Government initially declared martial law and set up “safe zones” in sport stadiums with emergency supplies guarded by the police and troops.

So far (about a third into the book) it’s following a very stressed government employee who is in charge of one of the safe zones, but as more time passes a military coup seems inevitable…..as that is what has happened in safe zones in other parts of the UK. As supplies start to dwindle, the soldiers took over and started to kick out non-essential civilians such as the old and sick……eventually raping the remaining women and killing the men as chaos and disorder took over.

There is a page from the book I’d like to share with you where a recent refugee who has been taken in by the community on the oil rig is discussing the “progress” made by the community in that they have now engineered a bio-digester – It feeds on human and animal waste and old food scraps to produce methane which then powers a small generator to give them electricity for lighting and to play a small stereo for 3 hours every evening. Some of the younger people on the rig are hoping similar progress has been made on the mainland and that soon the cities will be up and running again with street lights, video games and TV’s. The older members and the newcomer are less enthusiastic about a return to the status quo of before the oil crisis. This extract from the book is when Valerie (a French speaking male from Belgium) is talking to 2 teenage boys and a young girl about how things were leading up to the oil crisis.

‘You want to live in a big city, full of noises and lights?’
‘Yeah, ‘course,’ replied Nathan.
The man shook his head with incredulity. Both Nathan and Jacob stared at him, bemused.
‘I believe the world was sick then,’ he continued. ‘And people were sick with a disease of the soul. You understand me?’
Neither boy did. Not really.
‘Most people were not happy. Most people were sick in their heart, unhappy lives. We all lived our isolated lives in our little homes and saw the world beyond through a tiny…..digital window. People did not talk to each other. Instead they typed messages to complete strangers on the internet. The more things we had the unhappier we became because there was always people on the TV who had very much more.’
Valerie shook his head and smiled sadly. ‘You do not see how much better your life is now, do you?’
Jacob, Nathan and Hannah continued to stare at him in bewildered silence.
‘I think your mother understands this. It is not things – and all the electricity that makes those things work – that makes a good life. They are just things; distractions, you know? Shiny little amusements made to look so wonderful and fun and the answer to your unhappiness. But you get the shiny things home and unwrap them, you hold them in your hand…..and they are just shiny things, that is all. They mean nothing.’
Valerie looked at the generator. ‘You know what it is that really destroyed the old world?’
They shrugged.
‘It was greed.’
Nathan and Jacob glanced at each other.

‘You know children killed each other for things like training shoes? Or mobile phones?’ Valerie continued. ‘The time just before the crash was mankind at his most evil. There were wars for oil, wars for gas. People killed for things, for power. Killed for oil. It was a world filled with jealousy for all the things we would see others have on the TV. A world of greed. Anger. Hate……..All the bright shiny lights and noises…..video games, the TV, the internet, music, the shopping, the arcades…..these things were made by governments to distract us; to keep our minds full and busy….so we did not realise how unhappy we all were.

The fact is that although this book is a novel, the breakdown of society, of law, of morals – brought about by a severe shortage of oil – could easily happen. We are so dependent on transportation, on shipping and air freight, on imported goods, to provide us with everything we need. Fiction often mirrors fact. There are lessons to be learned from this book about how once civilised people treat one another after as little as three days without food. How important a true sense of community is – take the time to talk to and get to know your neighbours. How important it is to have personal plans in place in case of emergency, rather than depending on the government to take care of you. And of alternate ways of living other than the consumer driven, oil dependent lifestyle we currently cling to. The consumer/capitalist/growth economy model is destroying the world that we depend on. All that disposable crap that we can’t live without – and yet we end up throwing it into the landfill or into our oceans – will be the death of us….and we’re taking thousands of other species with us.

None of the above is news to me, but it would be to some people. The ones who are easily distracted by the shiny baubles of life. The duplicity of governments and high ranking government officials, who are basically in the pockets of the corporate businessmen, is not a surprise….. but it is a reminder to me not to become sucked in to the world of corporate smoke and mirrors. To be seduced by the lies, damn lies and statistics produced to back up any argument. The so called ‘war on terror’ – pushed on the western world by the Bush Administration was no more than a political smokescreen to justify the invasion of oil rich, non-white, non-Christian countries. The sad thing is that it’s been carried on by subsequent governments and they are still playing the sleight of hand game with the civilian population even today (who are too busy playing with their shiny toys to notice or even care) – justifying invading other sovereign nations and stealing their natural resources due to some fictitious crime that they are meant to have committed. Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction – that never actually existed – justified the invasion of Iraq. Both America’s Bush and Britain’s Blair swore that they had “undeniable evidence” that these weapons existed. The world believed them and a nation was destroyed – in order to get at their oil supplies. Then the invading countries tell the world that – Whoops our mistake, no weapons of mass destruction, (but he was a nasty guy with a bad moustashe anyway) and it’s OK that we’ve bombed the hell out of Iraq and destroyed their infrastructure and murdered thousands, possibly millions, of civilians (collateral damage), because we are now investing millions of dollars in the country to get them back on their feet again. What they don’t say is that the money invested is being spent mainly on setting up their own refineries and oil wells, pipelines and railways and roads to link the refineries to the ports and harbours, for American and allied tankers to come into and fill up with plundered oil. Meantime the Iraqis are still living among the rubble. And the action of the western powerful and power hungry nations in destroying these oil rich countries is creating more terrorists out of what were peaceful people. This increase in people angry at the west and what has been done to their home lands and their economy then justifies the War on Terror and perpetuates it. The only way to defeat terror is to not take part in terror. But the powerful governments know that as long as there is a perceived terror threat, its people will willingly give away their rights and freedoms in exchange for perceived safety and security. It’s a sick world alright!

I think one of the biggest things wrong with the world today is that we have given away our right to think for ourselves. The government have been given too much power, too much control over how we live our lives. The media are controlled by big business so we only see on TV what they want us to see. “Good evening and here is the news that we want you to know about and here is how we want you to perceive that news.” There are too many rules and regulations that restrict our lifestyle choices, where we can live, what we can build, what we can teach our children, whether we have the choice to vaccinate our kids or refuse vaccinations, what we can grow in our gardens…..our movement from one place to another. We have become dependent on government to provide for us rather than being responsible for our own lives. We have given away so much of our freedom in exchange for baubles and shiny toys and they have buried us under a mountain of unnecessary legislation and taxation. We’ve been tricked into living on credit…credit cards and easy loans…which keeps us deeply in debt and therefore slaves to the system. If we’re going to survive, we need to turn this on it’s head and have a return to community reliance where small communities are self governing, have minimal rules and where the individual can have control over their own lives. Unfortunately many of us will be too busy messaging strangers on the net, searching for the latest shiny distraction to buy or streaming the next series of mind numbing, so called, reality TV, to care.

Please give serious thought to how you live your life. If you are concerned about how we’re damaging the environment on which we depend use your purchasing power positively and be wise about what you buy. Vote with your wallet. Try to move toward renewable energy sources, avoid plastics and look toward using only renewable materials to make the things that we need, and protect the planet. I don’t want to sound patronising or cliche, but we do need to be the change that we want to see in the world.

My earlier post about Anarchists nicely dove-tails into this discussion.

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Just a thought on Anarchy. is it as bad as it sounds?

This is somewhat different to my usual posts…..

Mention the words Anarchism or Anarchist to most people and the image that immediately springs to mind is that of a rioting youth, a lone wolf, wearing heavy boots, a hooded jacket and an anarchist t-shirt resplendent with the letter A in a circle….and a petrol bomb in hand ready to throw either at Police or through a shop window. To support anarchy – to be an anarchist you must be a Yob…the dregs of society right? AND to be honest with you, that’s what I initially thought too.

Look up Anarchism on the all knowing Wikipedia and it tells you this:-

Anarchism is an anti-authoritarian political philosophy that advocates self-managed, self-governed societies based on voluntary, cooperative institutions and the rejection of hierarchies those societies view as unjust. These institutions are often described as stateless societies, although several authors have defined them more specifically as distinct institutions based on non-hierarchical or free associations. Anarchism holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary and harmful. Anarchism does not offer a fixed body of doctrine from a single particular worldview, many anarchist types and traditions exist and varieties of anarchy diverge widely. Anarchist schools of thought can differ fundamentally, supporting anything from extreme individualism to complete collectivism.

I’m not sure about you, but to me that sounds very reasonable…..ideal even. You may have been surprised to see the words – self governed societies and voluntary cooperative institutions – because for a society or institution to exist it follows that there would be rules and regulations surely, and that would be against what Anarchists want, wouldn’t it? The answer is – Anarchists operate on principles or ideals rather than rules and regulations, they are very much against RULERS. (The etymological origin of anarchism derives from ancient Greek word anarkhia. Anarkhia meant “without a ruler”). What they want is TRUE EQUALITY.

Personal autonomy and human rights are highly connected and cannot exist without one another. This reflects not only the equality of all individuals but also their autonomy, their right to have and pursue interests and goals different from those of the state and its rulers. Naturally as far as Anarchism is concerned there would be no rulers or state. Just true equality and personal and/or group autonomy….just as our ancestors would have had back when they were gathered into loose groups of hunter gatherers – equality with common aim.

Throughout history anarchists have been very much un-Yob-like. Lets take a look at a few of them. Respected thinkers, writers, intellectuals and even a few celebrities have followed the anarchist path. Take Plato for instance.

Or how about Charlie Chaplin?

Or…Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, usually referred to in English as Leo Tolstoy, the Russian writer who is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time. His books War and Peace and Anna Karenina are still lauded as classics of literature and yet…..another anarchist thinker.

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To come finally right up to date with one of today’s great thinkers, writer, intellectual, political commentator and critic….Noam Chomsky. Chomsky believes anarchism is a direct descendant of liberalism, perfecting the ideals of personal liberty. Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, social critic, and political activist. Sometimes called “the father of modern linguistics”, Chomsky is also a major figure in analytic philosophy and one of the founders of the field of cognitive science. Professor emeritus of Linguistics at MIT…doesn’t seem like the preconceived idea of an anarchist does he?

So….is anarchy a bad thing? Your comments, opinions etc are most welcome.

Earth Abides – an “end of the world as we know it” classic.

George R Stewart originally published “Earth Abides” in 1949, but it’s as readable and as prophetic today as it was then. This book is a CLASSIC (yes in big letters) – classic post-apocalyptic story. It deals with an end of the world as we know it situation – one that wipes out 99% of humankind – and follows, initially a lone survivor, and then a small group, who learn to depend on one another and to begin again. It’s not the literal end of the world – just the end of the world “as we know it”. We as humans have to adapt to change in order to survive.

I love a good dystopian novel/survival novel/even a good zombie (blood splattered) novel. And often-times I even envy the survivors – having a chance to start again with a clean slate – where hopefully they, and humankind as a whole, will not make as big a mess of things this time as they did the last time. Here there are no politicians, no corporations, no armies – doing the bidding of the political or corporate elites….just ordinary people with a will to survive. Earth Abides has no zombies, no gratuitous violence, and only implied sexual acts and either in spite of, or because of, this it is still a great story – of hopes, fears, strength and frailty of the human spirit, of quest, an adventure and a journey into an unknown future by learning from, and in some cases ignoring, the lessons of the past. But don’t get me wrong – there is death/murder and there are relationships and the usual relationship issues in this story.

This was one of the books I bought recently on my trip to the west coast of the USA. The story is based primarily in San Francisco (where I spent much of my time) and is a multi-generational epic. I highly recommend it. It’s not only about the quest for survival and a rebuilding (of a kind) of society. It makes you question things. To look at your own life and evaluate what’s important (the theoretical meat and potatoes of life) and what is merely gravy…trimmings… that are more there as a front to give the ‘right’ impression rather than having any real substance. It makes you look at the possibilities that a totally fresh start – either for humankind as a whole, or for ones self as an individual – could mean. Does a fresh start mean a clean break from the past or are there some things from the past worthy of carrying forward into a new future?

There are a couple of quotes, that may help in pushing a person to take the decision to make a fresh start, from the book, that I’d like to share with you. The first is “men go and come, but earth abides.” Which I think kind of puts our lives into perspective by which I mean that all our struggles and worries of today in our daily lives mean very little in the grand scheme of things. The worrisome things that keep us awake at night are not really worth the importance that we give them…..we live, we die, we become one with the earth…the whole ashes to ashes, dust to dust thing. The earth goes on regardless, so why not do what makes you happy? The second is “without courage there is only a slow dying, not life.” Sometimes you have to stand up – for either yourself, or for an ideal – even if it means swimming against the tide of public opinion. Live YOUR life, by your rules, not someone else’s.

It’s taken me almost 60 years to find out who I am, who I was, and who I want to be, and to figure out what sort of world I would like to live in – to be a part of…and what I can do to start to move me in the right direction. I am not an anarchist, but do believe that we have had a lot of pointless rules and regulations imposed upon us, by the people we elect to represent us. The same people who seem to think of new things to tax us for each day. We are being over regulated, our freedoms are being taken away (little by little in the hope that we don’t notice) and we are being taxed to death to finance the lifestyle of the rich and powerful. Sometimes I ask myself… would the end of the world as we know it be such bad thing?

As usual your comments and thought on this are appreciated.

“Goodreads” gives the book a 4 out of 5 and I’d certainly give it at least 4 out of 5 myself. They say “A disease of unparalleled destructive force has sprung up almost simultaneously in every corner of the globe, all but destroying the human race. One survivor, strangely immune to the effects of the epidemic, ventures forward to experience a world without man. What he ultimately discovers will prove far more astonishing than anything he’d either dreaded or hoped for.

GLIDE along to San Francisco’s Tenderloin.

The choir and band at Glide Church in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District.

One of the items on my wife’s “must do” list, when we visited San Francisco recently, was to visit a church where the choir sang Gospel music. A quick ‘Google’ recommended Glide church in one of San Francisco’s seedier areas – the Tenderloin. I wasn’t all that keen on attending a church service but went along to make sure she was safe on the streets.

Neither of us are overly religious and don’t attend church on anywhere near a regular basis at home (usually weddings and funerals), nor follow any particular religion, but for some reason when we travel overseas we tend to visit quite a few churches, chapels, temples etc. – mainly from an interest in their history and architecture. We do however feel a certain degree of spiritual uplift after visiting these buildings, particularly if there is a service on at the time of our visit.

We were in the UK a couple of years ago and, as is our habit when overseas, visited a few churches there. We were told the same story where ever we went – falling congregation numbers and churches closing or having services every couple or more weeks instead of every Sunday. In one village we visited in Cornwall, the church officials outnumbered the congregation, us included. I believe that, although modern day people live busier lives than in the past and the internet has made knowledge more accessible – particularly about “the Creation” and scientific alternatives – the main reason for falling congregation numbers in the UK is because the church still sticks to its format of old. It has not moved on, has not evolved.

No such problem, it seems, in America. Some churches maintain the status quo, others are more progressive and not only maintain congregation numbers but in some cases have increased them. And I add – slightly tongue in cheek – one can’t help feel that more people are praying these days as a result of who is in the White House.

Glide church, in one of the poorest areas of San Francisco, has two services each Sunday to accommodate everyone who wants to go – one at 9am and another at 11am. We went to the 11am service, or should I say “celebration”? Prior to the “celebration” we had mistakenly wandered into another room, downstairs in the church building, used to help both feed those in need and help to rehabilitate and offer assistance to people with addictions. We were greeted by a man of about my age who was obviously there to be helped, but also made a point of making us feel welcome. He gave us his life story and then shed tears when telling us how much he misses his parents who died in 2012. A lady helper then told us that if we were looking for the Sunday Celebration…..it was upstairs in the church proper.

It was certainly an interesting and surprisingly emotional experience. Being a “gospel” church, and I know I am being stereotypical and for that I apologize, I expected a black preacher. The main preacher here is white…..but delivered the sermon with a sense of humour, even if it did seem like he was using “dad” jokes. He made sure the emphasize that this is a church that is fully inclusive and supports the community it serves, by being a community. Every day they need 70 volunteers to help in the task of feeding the homeless. They also run rehabilitation programs for those dependent on drugs, alcohol or gambling. They care and they try their best to make a difference. Of course there was the usual plea for folks to “give money”, but when you see what they are doing with it and the programs they have to help the needy you don’t mind digging deep to put something into the collection plate.

San Francisco has a huge problem with homelessness. Except in the rich areas, where I’m guessing the streets are policed a little more strictly, you will find the homeless sleeping in shop doorways, the middle of footpaths, or even in some cases in makeshift tents on the median strip of busy roads. Most of them with cardboard signs asking for nickels and dimes “anything you can spare to help”. It’s bad enough in the middle of the day, but the “body count” increases once the stores close and more of the homeless take up their usual spot, wedged into alcoves against shop doors, to find as much shelter as is possible, from the weather, for the night. The weather is one of the reasons that San Francisco has such a high population of homeless people. The temperature range here is fairly constant – no extremes of heat or bitter cold – making outdoor living at least bearable, if not comfortable. Other cities, such as New York, constantly hassle the homeless and move them on as quickly as possible – in some cases they even bus them out of the city so that they become someone else’s problem. Not so in San Francisco.

And not so at Glide church where everyone is welcome regardless of your status, skin colour, gender (or gender choice), religious beliefs, social problems, health or mental state etc. So, as you can imagine, there is a diverse cross section of the community here and ALL are warmly welcomed and embraced into the heart of this church. Very early in the service – or celebration, as they call it here at Glide – the preacher gets everyone to shake hands (or hug) someone that they haven’t met before. It was something very much out of my comfort zone and not an inherently English thing to do, but after the initial pang of discomfort I couldn’t help but warm to the feeling of love and belonging that these folk – the congregation here – exude.

Before the “celebration” began a lady circulated though the pews offering either a fan or a tissue to each of us. It was quite chilly in the church anyhow so there was no need for a fan and I had no idea, at the time, why she thought we might need a tissue – other than to blow our noses on. However I could have used that tissue later on. I was emotionally affected by the whole experience – the sermon (which wasn’t much related to the usual biblical texts that I have been used to in more staid Church of England services) was more about life experiences and struggles that ordinary people have to get through to survive….not just those on the street, but working families where mum and dad are both having to work two jobs – drawing minimum wage – just to pay the bills.

The American Dream lifestyle of the 1950’s and 60’s has become an American Nightmare for many in the 2000’s as the gap between rich and poor continues to widen at an alarming rate, enslaving many in a seemingly unbreakable cycle of debt. Combine this with the singing of the choir and a talented bunch of musicians, playing everything from keyboards, drums and guitar to a brass section…..add in the words of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” – the choir and band did a brilliant job of this number – experience being in this tumble dryer of humanity and humbleness and next thing you’re dabbing away tears of emotion and gratitude.

The celebration featured many things other than the choir and the sermon. At one point a gentleman was asked to step up and talk briefly to us from the stage. He was 27 years sober, thanks to the support of Glide church, and a former member of the choir. He spoke most eloquently and you could see that he was in a good place both literally and figuratively speaking – very comfortable in his own skin and in addressing the congregation – interesting to listen to.

The “Fabulous” Stacy with friend, and at the lectern the Preacher.

We also had an appearance on stage from another member of the congregation – a transexual called Stacy – who was very flamboyant and totally ‘out there’ – and her favourite word was “fabulous”. She was on stage to announce a LGBT event coming up in May where everyone was invited “including straight people”….but they have to dress up and of course “be fabulous”.

Former Minister delivers his crucifixion story.

There was a short sermon by a former Glide minister (he also covers for the current minister when needed) – this time a black man, or man of colour (I don’t mean to offend but never know when to use the word black or colour so I’m using both to cover all bases). He delivered a very modern take on the crucifixion and why God didn’t save his son from the suffering of the cross. He said it was due to modern day pressures. God was holding down 2 jobs, had already taken time off work to help his troubled son out previously and was going to lose his job if he left his work station to take yet another call from him asking for help. He related it to the lives of every day working class Americans and the message came across very clearly. Another eloquent speaker.

It was a very humbling, moving and uplifting experience during which we weren’t merely visitors or tourists – we were part of the congregation and community….and I am glad that my wife dragged me along.

The link to the Glide church web page is
https://www.glide.org/

Are you prepared for anything?Or are you prepared for everything?

Bad things sometimes happen to good people completely unexpectedly….out of the blue. This was clearly referenced recently in Christchurch, New Zealand with the Mosque shootings – resulting in fifty Muslim worshippers being cut down by a lone white supremacist gunman. Although the shooting of people from one religious group by a member of another group is nothing new these days (sadly), it is something new for New Zealand. Many people had a dazed look on their face and uttered the same words “How could this happen here?” However, with terrorism reaching almost every corner of the world, it was only a matter of time before we in New Zealand became part of the equation.

Christchurch has had a fairly bad run of things over the last 10 years, having suffered two large earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. The 2010 quake registered 7.1 on the Richter Scale but other than a few minor injuries, no one was killed. It was a different story in 2011, when buildings already weakened by the 2010 quake succumbed to the shaking produced by a smaller 6.2 quake, killing 185 people and injuring many more.

Then in 2016, just 180 kilometres north of Christchurch, the coastal town of Kaikura experienced a huge 7.8 quake which shook down buildings, caused land slips severing road connections with the outside world and left Kaikura residents to their own devices for several days. In spite of the size of the quake, only 2 people died and several others were injured. The main highway north out of Kaikura took 2 years to reconstruct. The quake also caused damage to several buildings in our countries Capital – Wellington – approximately 200 kilometres to the north – across Cooks Strait on the north island of New Zealand.

Last year we had serious floods on the north island, leaving communities cut off for a couple of weeks until floodwaters subsided and this year the south island was hit by flooding, with bridges being washed away by raging rivers, again cutting transport and power and, in some cases, water supplies to several communities.

All of these incidents and others have demonstrated that when it comes to large scale disasters, particularly wide ranging natural disasters like storm damage and/or earthquakes, the government of the day can not protect us. Often the damage caused by the natural event is such that it prevents rescuers or aid from getting through and the victims are left to fend for themselves to a greater or lesser degree. Obviously some folks are better equipped and better prepared to cope through a natural disaster than others. Its all about assessing the facts and taking appropriate action to mitigate the potential for disaster. People who choose to live along a fault line, or in tornado alley or in a high drought area etc and choose to do nothing to prepare to survive an earthquake, a tornado or a drought are fools. They are even bigger fools if they genuinely believe that the government are going to come riding over the horizon and save them.

With Climate Change tipped to bring us more extreme weather in the future, these weather phenomena are more likely to become the norm rather than the extreme. Add to this mix the general political unrest in the world today – continuing unrest in the middle east, Trump in the Whitehouse and “Little Rocket Man” in North Korea, Russia and China flexing their military muscles….not to mention the turmoil in Britain and Europe caused by Brexit…and it’s not unusual to react by dispairingly, throwing ones arms in the air, and saying saying there’s nothing we can do about it. BUT, there are some things that we can prepare for and by being prepared for them, they become a less frightening proposition.

Obviously there is a lot of information on the internet on what to do in emergencies of various kinds, but what if the emergency situation takes out the power grid and you lose the internet as an information resource? That’s why I have several books either on my office bookshelves, or ready for a quick get away in my caravan/trailer, that give advice and guidance no matter what the emergency. There have been a flood of “Prepper Books” come out as a result of the National Geographic TV Series “Doomsday Preppers” which started filming in 2011….followed by 2 shows on the same theme filmed in the UK called Doomsday Preppers UK. Some of these books are absolute garbage and are written by people who have no “Prepper” experience who have jumped on the bandwagon to make a quick buck. There are some that I can recommend though that were written years before the Doomsday Prepper series was even conceived.

One printed in 1987 by Reader’s Digest simply called “What to do in an emergency”, offers useful tips and information on what to do in a multitude of emergency situations, from simple things such as treating bites and stings, to stopping bleeding, dealing with burns and broken bones, through to solving electrical problems, preparing for a coming storm, dealing with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. It also gives advice on forest fires, emergencies at sea and even what to do in the event of your plane being hijacked. Being a Reader’s Digest book, it’s written in plain, simple language, has helpful illustrations, and is easy to follow. The important thing though is not to just have books like this sitting on your shelf to be referenced after an emergency happens. Read them well first, make notes or if you don’t mind your books being damaged, use a highlighter to clearly mark the most important parts for quick reference when the time comes.

Another very useful book is Ted Wright’s 1993 book “Complete Disaster Survival Manual”. In this book you receive some of the same information as the previously mentioned Reader’s Digest book, but he delves more into preparing in a group situation, either at work or in the home/community and has come up with several useful lists of “must have” equipment for dealing with said emergency situations. He also points out some myths/facts about various situations. Some are comforting but others are quite disturbing when he points out how ill prepared the authorities actually are for many emergency situations that could arise. For example having little or no food/water stored for emergencies, or siting an emergency control centre in the basement of an earthquake prone building on land that would be submerged in the event of a tsunami…..as is the situation in the town close to where I live.

A good standby that most Preppers either have on their bookshelves or in their “Go-Bags” is John ‘Lofty’ Wiseman’s “SAS Survival Handbook” – subtitled “how to survive in the wild, in any climate, on land or at sea”. It’s a mine of very useful information written by a man with years of military survival know-how under his belt. Everything from setting up camp in the wilds, finding your way by the stars, first aid, natural medicines you can find in the woods and fields (with diagrams to help identify plants), edible plants, poisonous plants, hunting, fishing and trapping, how to cope in extreme conditions such as deserts or mountains – all this and more is in this book…..as I said a mine of information. He also talks about building your own disaster “pocket survival kit” and what to do in a variety of natural disasters.

Although the above mentioned books all have sections about health and first aid, it’s important to have a book (or two) specifically on the subject of first aid and keeping healthy. My “Go-To” book is the St Johns “First Aid handbook”. It gets updated every few years, but my copy is from the 1970’s (not the one pictured) and used to belong to my father.

There are a lot of useful books out there that can help us to be like good boy scouts and “be prepared” for all eventualities and those are just a few of what’s available.

Just going back to the “Doomsday Preppers” series. Much of what’s shown on TV is very much over the top as far as these Preppers are concerned. They seem to think that an underground bunker, a dozen high powered semi-automatic weapons with thousands of bullets plus a years supply of freeze dried food will protect them and their families from all hazards. Not only do you have to be very wealthy to have this sort of emergency preparation, I couldn’t imagine being confined in a smallish space underground with my immediate family and probably my in-laws as well, for an extended period of time – we’re talking months in some cases!

My preference is community based prepping and being able to build your own shelter and live off the land….which is why we already grow most of our fruit and vegetable needs (we save seeds for the following years crops) and preserve any extra produce so we can eat it after its season ends (it also provides us with a useful emergency supply store of food), we have a bee hive, harvest rainwater from the roofs as a means of watering our gardens (or in dire emergency as a drinking water supply). With this in mind I also have books on subjects such as gardening/pruning/organics and permaculture, wild edibles, natural medicines and home remedies, preserving (dehydrating/freezing/salting/bottling or canning), natural building methods (straw bale/earth building), making your own electricity and general self sufficiency.

I have been a home gardener since I was a child, helping my father in his veggie garden. I’ve been interested in prepping and being prepared for disasters for a somewhat shorter time, taking a more serious interest about 7 or 8 years ago. There is a lot of information about “Prepping” and “Preppers” on line – some of it is very helpful and can be taken at face value, where as other information needs to be taken with a pinch of salt….in some cases a very LARGE pinch of salt. I would encourage anyone interested to check out any of the on-line forums about Prepping – common sense will soon tell you which are the useful ones and which are run by purely gun-toting rednecks. For New Zealanders interested in finding out more about Prepping, try prepnz.proboards.com or message me for more info.

We face interesting times ahead here in NZ. As a response to the Christchurch shootings, our Prime Minister is pushing through new gun ownership laws which is hardly surprising. What concerns me though is where this change will lead. This is not America. We have no 2nd amendment. At the moment, because our security status here is high, after the shootings, police are currently carrying weapons, once it drops back to “normal levels” they will once again have access to weapons in lock boxes in patrol cars, but won’t be carrying a Glock on their hips.
There is talk once more of permanently arming our police force regardless of security level….while at the same time disarming the general population. In the UK they have gone a step or two further by now making restrictions on knives – the type and the blade size that it’s citizens can own. Like I said, interesting times ahead.

Your feedback/comments are appreciated on anything mentioned in this post.

Christchurch – love, empathy and forgiveness out of a terrible tragedy.

As those of you who have been following my blog know, it’s about books, writers, bookshops – and occasionally movies, travel and photography. But because of what occurred here in New Zealand a week ago I feel compelled to write something about it.

One week to the day ago 50 people who were going about their lives, many of them praying in their place of worship – their place of safety – were murdered and around the same number were hospitalised. It was, without a doubt, a hate crime and the dead and injured were targeted because of their religion and/or colour. All we know at this point in time is that there is just the one accused man in police custody who has been charged with one count of murder with more counts to be added before he stands trial. Much has been made of the fact that this man is a white supremacist and is Australian. I guess the authorities here want to make the point that it was NOT a New Zealander who committed such atrocities and to try to distance ourselves from the perpetrator.

I am not sure what the killer expected to happen as a result of his crimes, but if he wanted to start a race war, or religious war, or merely to spread hatred and distrust among the various races, religious groups and communities of NZ….he failed miserably. Never have I seen such a coming together of people. The support shown by the NZ public of love and empathy toward the Muslim community has been huge. And in return that love has come back from the Muslim people to the rest of NZ. Long may this state of being last.

Distrust and hatred among people of different races or religions comes mainly from ignorance, of not knowing anything about these people or their religious practices. It’s interesting to see how many hits on line there has been about what it is to be Muslim. People aren’t looking this up in order to convert, but just to understand and accept that there are more similarities between the various groups than there are differences. All too often we make a big deal about how different some people are from others instead of embracing our similarities. There has been particular distrust from non-Muslims relating to the wearing of the various head scarves starting with the hijab – which covers the hair and the neck, but leaves the face visible – through to the full burka which covers the entire head and face. For Islamic women who choose to wear the hijab it allows them to retain their modesty, morals and freedom of choice. They choose to cover because they believe it is liberating and allows them to avoid harassment. Unfortunately due to ignorance from others who have no idea about why these various head coverings are worn and so therefore fear or distrust them, harassment, of a racial kind ,is something that happens all too often. I think it’s important for all of us to have a little knowledge about all religions, all ethnic groups so that we understand rather than fear or hate through our ignorance.

A post on the BBC website – link below – shows the differences between the various Muslim head coverings and their names. https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/24118241

In Iran, since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Hijab has become compulsory. Iranian women are required to wear loose-fitting clothing and a headscarf in public. However in most other countries it is optional, but as a sign of respect and modesty most Muslim women choose to wear a head covering in some form or another.

The morning after the shootings, my wife told me that she wanted to pick some flowers from our garden and take them down to the local mosque to show that white people can also show love and empathy, not hatred and bigotry. So, she picked a few flowers, wrapped a ribbon around them and we visited the mosque. The gates and the building were all locked up….small wonder after what had happened in Christchurch. We were surprised to see, so early in the morning, that there were already many floral tributes and cards with messages of support attached to, or leaning against, the fence around the mosque. These tributes have continued to grow in number throughout the week and are now so deep that they are taking up most of the footpath.

There was a short – I can’t call it a service because it had no religious meaning – it was more of a moment of love and respect, there outside the fence of the mosque, when poem was read out written by the poet Rumi, called Silence (or in silence)…..followed by a minutes silence for us to reflect on what had happened. Many people of all skin colour were openly weeping. It was both sad, but at the same time quite beautiful to see this coming together of people who would not normally even speak to one another.

All over New Zealand there have been vigils and public meetings and tributes. Here in my home town of Hastings – which happens to have the only Mosque in the whole of Hawke’s Bay (our region – the same as an American state or an English county) – a service of remembrance, of love and empathy was held in the middle of town by local civic and religious officials last Monday, and even though it was in the middle of the day, when so many people would have been at work, it was heartening to see hundreds of people of all ages, races and religious backgrounds there. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and more all side by side united in grief and love.

Many non-Muslims who want to show their unity and support for the Muslim community are not sure of the protocol to follow. In times such as these it is natural to want to hug someone and tell them that things will be OK. BUT it is not generally acceptable for people outside the Muslim faith of opposite genders to have physical contact. So in general it would be acceptable for a male to hug a male and a female to hug a female – BUT please ask first. Show your respect for their culture. For female non-Muslims who want to wear a scarf or hijab to show support for their Muslim sisters – this is quite acceptable. There was a story about Muslim women who after the Christchurch attack were afraid to go out in public wearing the hijab to take their kids to school. However, non-Muslim women in the community offered to walk with them and to wear the scarf themselves.

There was a photo on Facebook showing 3 eggs – one white, one light brown and one dark brown – all decidedly different looking. In a second photo all the eggs had been cracked into a pan – all looked identical. Under that outer shell – that outward appearance – they were exactly the same. A simple but at the same time a timely reminder to us all to embrace our similarities and not focus on our differences.

We have had our first threat – supposedly from ISIS – saying that the deaths of their Muslim brothers and sisters in New Zealand will be avenged. This is not what the NZ Muslim community are saying. They have reacted only with love, peace, gratefulness for the huge show of public support…..and unbelievably… forgiveness for the shooter. I think all of us can learn from this.

This post is primarily about the good that came from this tragedy. I may write another post, at a more suitable time – outlining from my own perspective what I see as the problems, the unanswered questions arising from what happened and comment on the NZ governments response.

Art for art’s sake….a slight detour.

I apologize in advance for some of the puns and some of the pictures. But please bear (or is it bare?) with me…..please continue in good humour (or humor if you’re in the USA) – I don’t mean to offend anyone.

Have you ever started off writing a blog post and then been reminded of something else along the way, so have taken a detour instead? It happens to me all the time. I just started writing a post about Nice in the south of France where, among other things, we visited the Marc Chagall gallery – or to give it its correct name the Musee National Marc Chagall….and it sent me on a tangent or a detour to blog about art, or my own attempts at art, instead.

Some museums don’t allow photography at all and others allow it as long as you don’t use the flash. The Marc Chagall museum fell in the latter category which was a good thing as my wife loves his paintings – they are very colourful, bright and child-like – and she wanted me to photograph a couple of them with a view to getting large prints made when we went home, to display on our lounge wall. Here – below – are a couple of Chagall paintings to give you, who haven’t seen his work before, an idea of how he paints.

Long story short – since we’d decided that they would look better printed on canvas than on paper – it was going to cost us around $300 to $400NZ for a print. So I rather foolishly suggested, as an alternative, that perhaps I could buy a blank canvas and produce my own “Chagall look-a-like painting”. My wife surprisingly agreed. So that’s what I did and here it is below…..it’s colourful anyhow.

The problem with that is that I’m not much of an artist. I loved to draw and paint as a kid (back when dinosaurs ruled the earth), but since then have only dabbled now and then when I liked a painting by a famous artist but didn’t have the money to buy a print of it….never mind the millions of dollars for the original. So I’d have a go at painting my own in a similar style…..or as similar as I could manage.

I started off with one that even I couldn’t fail at (or so I thought) – a Jackson Pollock style abstract splatter painting. I used some old acrylic house paint and felt it was coming along quite well with blue and green splatters of paint, but when I needed another colour, to contrast the blue and green, all I could find was a creamy-white…..so on it went one “whoosh” of a splatter at a time. It didn’t quite have the effect I was looking for and looked more like……er….well, it looked a little like….how can I put this tactfully? Actually I don’t think I can think of a polite description – I titled the piece “love comes in spurts.” Enough said.

What a load of “pollocks!” – my attempt at a Jackson Pollock splatter painting.

Needless to say, it didn’t stay on our wall for too long before it was consigned first to the garage and later to the rubbish dump.

Another attempt slightly more successful was my version of Pablo Picasso’s picture of an artist, his model and for some reason a yellow bull and a pink horse….trampling on a light blue horse which was laying on the bed of the artist and model. I know…I know…..I thought the same thing. Why do I do bother?

Pick Ass Oh! – my attempt at Picasso’s “artist and model” series.

My friends are no help either, in fact they push me toward my artistic endeavours….or should that be artistic follies? This is almost 20 years ago, but one of my co-workers, with whom I usually discussed books we were both currently reading, told me that she had recently started going to “life drawing” classes and that I should go along. Initially I thought she meant “still life” classes – you know bowls of fruit, flowers and the like. I was quite taken aback when she explained that what it actually entailed was to sit in a circle around a model and draw or paint that person who would be sitting, standing or laying there completely naked.

After checking if the “model” is usually male or female and getting the reply that nine times out of ten it was a female, and she’s usually someone from the art teachers yoga class, I said “yeah, okay….I’ll come along and give it a go” trying my best not to sound too keen.

I wasn’t actually sure if I could, for want of a better term, handle it. I mean sitting there in front of a completely naked woman and to be expected to draw her without allowing my nervous, trembling hand holding the pencil to tear big holes across the paper as I quivered, stared and drooled! I know…I know…right now you’re probably thinking “for F##ks sake how old are you FIVE?” I’m pleased to report that once I was there, in the class, I was perfectly well behaved, totally in the moment and fully concentrated on my attempts at capturing the model on paper…..as opposed to kidnapping her in the carpark afterwards! ( I write this very much tongue in cheek….my cheek that is).

I really enjoyed the lessons. I know, you’re thinking – “Who wouldn’t?” But once you’re there you don’t actually see “a naked woman….or on one occasion….naked man” – you’re too busy trying to get the angles, curves and shading right. Our tutor got us to try different media and styles of drawing/painting. Sometimes we’d use a pencil, sometimes charcoal or chalk or pastels or poster paint or water colour. Other times we’d try to paint by using something as simple as a piece of cardboard dipped into ink. It was all very interesting.

By now, having seen my Chagall, Pollock and Picasso attempts you know not to expect too much of my “art” – a few of my attempts from the life drawing class follow…..you have been warned! Some of these we had to produce in a few minutes, others we had a longer pose to get onto paper…..he said, trying to come up with excuses.

So there you have it…the bare facts about life drawing. Click on any of the pictures to enlarge it. They have been automatically cropped by the computer to fit nicely side by side in the gallery above. As I said, various media and various styles. And yes, one of the drawings is of a pregnant lady. She was wonderful to draw….very curvy and very patient with the class….and it was extremely brave of her in that late stage of her pregnancy, when many women would have body image issues, to bare all. All in the name of art. Art for art’s sake.