On being and belonging….

I’ve probably mentioned in earlier posts about my admiration of the work, or at least some of the work, of writer Paul Kingsnorth. When reading his latest book Savage Gods – which is, quite frankly, a strange and thought provoking book – partly about his and his family settling, or at least trying to settle, into a new life in rural western Ireland….and also about his sense of belonging, his life in general and about writing and words – it made me examine my own life.

I will do a book review of Kingsnorth’s book in a later post.

Before I begin, there is something that you should know. I don’t like myself. I used to when I was a child – young and innocent. But not now. I can’t understand why anyone would want to be my friend, or spend time in my company. I think it was Woody Allen who once said – and I am paraphrasing here – “I could never belong to a club that would have me as a member.”

I once had a dream. At the time of dreaming it, it was very clear. I don’t remember now who it was that I was talking with in the dream, but I was explaining to the person how confused I was about my purpose – why was I here on earth, what was my “raison d’être”? The reason or purpose of my existence. The person in my dream then told me the meaning of life in one short but clear sentence. I remember saying to him…or was it her…”That’s it? It’s that simple?”. And then realizing I was in a dream, I thought “I must tell everyone about this as soon as I wake up….it’s amazing and such a wonderfully simple concept”. You can imagine my excitement.

Of course on waking, the explanation about life and why we are here disappeared into the ether. All I can remember is how simply it was explained to me. I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to find my way back into that dream ever since. It often feels tantalisingly close, but is always just out of reach.

Kingsnorth’s book has started me thinking about that dream again and questioning why I am here, where is HERE and my sense of belonging to the place where I live. My thought pattern is a rush of jumbled thoughts and ideas, tripping over one another as they all trying to come out at once, so please bear with me while I attempt to give them all a place on this page, in some semblance of order.

When we are children we are often asked by adults “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. The question that they actually want us to answer is not what we want to be, but what job or career we want to perform in order to earn money which will then allow us to live in a certain manner. We answer and are then often told that we’re wrong in our choices and should strive to become something else….something perceived, by them, as better in some way.

In my case, I loved playing in the woods as a very young boy, but you can’t play in the woods as an adult. I wanted to do a job that would allow me to remain in the woods and keep me connected to nature. You can’t play in the woods as a job. But why not? Why is it that we cross an invisible line when we go from childhood to manhood that means that what was once a happy, pleasurable, natural thing to do – playing in the woods amongst nature, as a part of the natural world – now becomes unacceptable, even embarrassing. Something unbecoming. Man and nature are not and never should be separate. We are part of the natural world and we lived within it for thousands of years, until suddenly that wasn’t good enough. We considered ourselves above nature and decided that we needed to control it. Not just felt the need to control nature but assumed we had a god given right to control it. To use and exploit its “resources”. (If you’ve read some of my earlier posts you’ll know how I feel about nature being looked upon as a resource). Somehow we have lost our way, allowed ourselves to become detached from nature.

So, after that little rant – my answer was “I want to be a forestry worker” – not the type that cut down trees though, but some kind of fantasy forester who cares for the trees. A protector of the natural world.

This, in later years changed into wanting to join the army and to be just like my older cousin Tony – whom I admired greatly – who joined the British army, travelled to exotic places and also learned a trade. He learned welding, and after leaving the army worked on a huge pipeline across Australia where he earned enough money to build his family a beautiful home in Adelaide where they settled, way back when, to live the dream. I thought that I wanted the same thing.

When I visited him and his family back in the 1980’s on my world travels I asked Tony how he was doing and his reply was “Living the dream mate”. He seemed very content.

For some reason neither of my career suggestions was good enough for my dad and I was pushed towards going to university and/or becoming a quantity surveyor. Why a quantity surveyor? I have no idea, but dad seemed to think it was high enough up the food chain to command respect and a good income. Like most parents, he wanted a better life for his kids than he was able to have. (He missed out on university because of a little thing called world war 2, which found him at the tender age of 17 crewing destroyers and minesweepers in the fight against Hitler). But who defines better and how do you define it?

The pursuit of happiness wasn’t a consideration. By now I was a teenager 16 years of age and naturally, as teenagers do, I revolted. Although up to that point in my life I’d done well at school, even enjoyed being there some of the time, had good grades, was in the top end of scholars and achieved 6 O’levels without expending too much effort, but rather than bowing to dad’s “suggestion” of going to university I deliberately scuppered my chances by missing lessons and instead spent my afternoons in one of many local pubs near the school. Naturally, this ended my run of good grades, served to keep me out of university and limit my options in a world where pieces of paper are deemed proof of intelligence and a persons worth.

It also brought out a bad side of me. I was irresponsible, got drunk often. I must have been a real pain in the arse to live with, but mum and dad (and my brother) were there for me. It certainly wasn’t a time I was particularly proud of.

I realize now of course that this was a stupid thing to do, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

In the end, neither my dad nor I got our wishes granted and on leaving school I ended up taking on a mediocre job working as a shipping clerk for a freight company. My idea, at this stage in my life was to do this job for 6 months or maybe a year and then pack a bag and travel to distant lands. To escape my childhood home and explore new possibilities. Cast off the old and embrace the new. However, life gets in the way of living the dream and it wasn’t until 8 years had passed, living a comfortable but numb life, before I quit and set off for a year to backpack around the world.

As I stood in my bedroom, on the morning of my departure, and looked around both within the room at the furniture, the decore, my Olivia Newton John poster, my drawing of Diana Ross, my map of the world with the places marked with pins that I wanted to visit…and at the view of old cottages, trees and gardens through the window…and of course my beloved woods beyond… trying to absorb everything into my memory bank for what could be the last time, as I had no idea when, or even if, I would be back again, I wondered if I was making a mistake. Was severing ties with the place I was born and grew up – the place where my dad was born, the place where my grandparents lived most of their lives, the place where my great grandparents settled and made their home – the right thing to do?

At the time I didn’t feel that I belonged there and there were far better places to explore, more interesting people to meet, more exciting experiences to be had. Why be a stick-in-the-mud? Why root myself to the spot like my great grand parents, my grand parents and my parents had done when I have 2 feet that will take me anywhere in the world? So I left.

I didn’t realize it back then but I had, and still have, a self destructive streak – a certain self loathing – a feeling of never being quite good enough. An underlying feeling that accepting failure and giving up or walking away from things – situations, people – was easier than struggling to succeed. “I am not worthy” is my underlying mantra. This wasn’t always the case though.

As a child I had a more or less happy life, particularly in my younger years – say from my earliest recollection of memory up to the age of maybe 10, or there abouts. I was confident in my abilities. I was a good reader and read lots of children’s books – devoured them would be a better description. I loved stories of adventure, of friends going off to explore exciting places together, the feeling of camaraderie and trust among equals. I loved to play and run through the woods, to go biking with friends, to play football in the park, to read endless books in the quiet solitude of my bedroom, to write my own stories, to sketch pictures in my sketchbook, to take my dog for long walks where I could just let my mind wander, to sing at the top of my voice when no one was there. I had confidence in myself. I thought I was good at everything, could do anything. I even got to sing solo in one of the schools productions. Then one day my mum criticised my singing, so I stopped. I started whistling, but my wife doesn’t like that – so I stopped that too….or I try to. I sometimes forget and I get THAT look from her.

I had a lot of friends back then. Good friends. Kids I could count on. I have been keeping in touch with many of my old friends from primary school through the magic of Facebook. Or I should say I HAD been keeping in touch with them. And here’s where my self destructive streak comes in again. I have decided that it’s important to stick to one’s principles. I detest the way that modern man – and modern woman come to that – are destroying the planet, or more accurately, destroying the natural world – real plants, trees, animals, birds, insects, the microbes in the living soil – for something as false as money. The worst of such people are the likes of the new billionaires like Zuckerberg (creator of Facebook….or the Metaverse) who controls what opinions we are allowed to express on Facebook and other (anti) social media platforms and (as I saw it) backs up oppressive governments and helps them to push their agenda. So, I decided to delete my Facebook and other social media accounts (which are a huge absorber of my time) and therefore get back lots of free time, give a 2 finger salute to Zuckerberg, but at the same time this decision sadly served to sever contact with my long time school friends.

Before deleting my account I did post on there to let people know of my decision and to advise them of my email address in case anyone wanted to keep in touch. But my self destructive, self loathing side tells me that no one will. I am not worthy – remember.

I know that it sounds like I am sinking into the pathetic realms of self pity here, but I’m not. I have no pity for myself. I don’t deserve any pity. I don’t seek pity from you or anyone else. I made my choices, rolled the dice, made many mistakes, so many mistakes – thankfully along with a few good choices such as marrying my wife and raising 2 great kids. But other than that I find myself asking “what have I done…what have I achieved….how can I become happy?”

I find myself where I am, disconnected and adrift, without the roots and connection that indigenous peoples have to their land and their sense of place and belonging to that place – in some cases over millennia, such as the Australian Aboriginal tribes. I no longer look at my ancestors as being foolish for putting down roots. I envy them. I envy their sense of belonging.

Now if you ask me where I feel most connected to, I am drawn back – almost tugged back on a long stretched piece of elastic – to a particular place in the woods where I played in my much younger years and felt a certain contentment with where I was and more importantly perhaps, who I was. As a child I lived in the now. I didn’t worry about my future or regret my past. What was to come or what had already happened didn’t concern me. I had no ambitions, no expectations, no ego. I was there, fully there in the moment, enjoying life – just living.

To cut a long story short I settled in New Zealand – as far away from my place of birth, geographically speaking, as I could be without heading off into space. I just used the word settled, but despite living here for longer than the time I lived in my birth country, I am anything but settled. We, my wife and I, have lived in our current house (notice I use the word house, not home) for almost 28 years. I’ve been in New Zealand for 33 years now. I am surrounded by books, many of which came with us when we emigrated here in 1989. We have made gardens to grow much of our vegetable needs and planted over 25 fruit and nut trees. The trees have put down roots, deep roots to anchor them in place no matter how rough the weather is. But I remain unable to show the same commitment to place as they do.

This place may be where I live, but it will – I fear – never be my home. I don’t belong here. It’s a beautiful country to live in, as far as scenic beauty is concerned, but I am alien to it and in it. I don’t fit. I’m an outsider. A “bloody Pom”, even though I have New Zealand citizenship – something that I waited over 12 years before committing to. I’ve always felt that living here was meant to be something temporary. Our house may be “home” as far as my children are concerned, it is their home because during there formative years it’s where they were brought up, where they played football and cricket in the back yard, where they felt most secure (I hope). But it’s not mine.

That being said, even my children seem to have rejected it. Both of my children have left for places new. One is still in New Zealand. He was born here, but now lives in our Capital City. Preferring city life to our more rural, small town backwater lifestyle. My older son, has lived stateside for over 10 years. I suspect that he feels an even bigger disconnect…or perhaps doesn’t sense the disconnect just yet. (But he will).

He was born in England, brought up in New Zealand, lived for 9 years in Boston and now lives in San Francisco. I hope that they both discover the importance of belonging to where they currently live or realize the importance of coming back to their roots.

As I get older I have more respect for my forebears. They put down roots, they became part of the community, they made friends, they belonged. I’ve lived here in this house for almost half my life and yet I have failed to commit to the place. I have failed to make friends here on this side of the globe. I had colleagues and co-workers at the various jobs I have had. I’ve met others through playing sports, but once I leave the job or stop playing the sport, those people slip away from my life. We have nothing in common any more. The job or the sport was our only common ground. I know a lot of people but there are few, if any, that I can count on as true friends. We reap what we sow I guess. On the bright side I have my long suffering wife by my side (for which I am eternally grateful), my collections of books all around me, my opportunity to use this blog to practice my writing and express myself…and my cat, who sometimes looks like he’s actually listening to me. I’m also very grateful for my kids and my grandchild….and more to come. But they are not here, where I am. It would be wonderful for us all to be together in a place where we all feel that we truly belong. But we aren’t and probably never will be.

On my travels I have felt a connection to a few special places that I have visited, passed through. Places that stir some strange primeval emotion deep within me, something bordering on the spiritual. But they are fleeting and my “modern man mind” dismisses it and I move on.

At the time of writing this, I’m 62 years of age and live 12,000 miles away from my childhood home, but I can see, hear, smell, sense in every way that particular place in the woods. The path is wider here and on one side is an old sandstone wall, waist high, tumbling down here and there. To the other side the land and the trees and bracken beneath slope slightly down hill away as far as the eye can see. Ahead of me the path forks and – like another writer by the name of Frost – I have to decide whether to take the well trodden path or the one least taken. Or do I waste my life and just stand here unable to choose? Then again, is simply being here at this spot in the woods, surrounded by nature and where I am happiest, wasting my life?

I can feel the bits of fallen twig moving in the sand on the path under my feet when I walk on them. I close my eyes and I can hear the constant buzz of insect life and see the beech leaves gently swaying on a whisper of a breeze that is barely audible, but is just enough to make the leaves dance. And below them, in springtime, an endless sea of bluebells that me and my younger brother would pick and take home for mum. The smell of earthiness all around me as fallen leaves decay into fresh soil and bring about new life. This place where I stand leaning against the sun-warmed sandstone wall in the woods, on this sandy path, in dappled light beneath the century old beech trees is warm, safe, familiar and comfortable. It is where I feel most at home, most rooted if you like. Despite the years passing, and the distance I am from it, everything is fresh and in the now.

This place is also where, 27 years after my departure from by birth place, I returned, briefly, with the ashes of my parents. They followed me, my wife and most importantly, their first grandchild out to New Zealand to live, back in 1990, having never even visited there before. Abandoning their roots, their friends, their entire previous lives. They asked that, eventually, their ashes be returned to the woods where they once walked. These woods where my father scattered the ashes of his parents – returning them to nature – ashes to ashes, dust to dust. This is the place I chose to scatter their earthly remains, beneath the beech trees with a good view of the springtime bluebells that my mum loved so much. It was the least that I could do for them. It’s also the place that I wept inconsolably as I scattered their ashes, despite the fact that they had both died a couple of years earlier, so those wounds were no longer new, fresh and raw. I wept not for them, but for myself….in my own typically selfish way. For they had returned to their roots and could never be separated from them. They belonged.

I had made some notes about life and being and belonging that I was going to refer to and work into this post, but once I got going the piece more or less wrote itself and I didn’t need them. I can perhaps use the notes when I tackle my review of Kingsnorth’s book. As usual thank you for reading. I honestly do appreciate any constructive comments.

Life imitating fiction.

I find it quite ironic that someone over a hundred years ago has a better grasp on what is happening today, to humanity, than many of the people (read “sheeple”) of today.

There have of course been other writers who have predicted our future through their writing – such as George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, Sinclair Lewis, George R Stewart. These writers I knew of and have read their dystopian tales of the demise of the human species, or of the end of the world as we know it. But, I hadn’t realised that E.M. Forster was amongst their ranks,(if only for one story) until I was made aware of his short story The Machine Stops – written in 1909 – which was mentioned in an interview on YouTube with “reformed environmentalist” Paul Kingsnorth.

There are many eerie parallels in Forster’s story with what our society today seems to be adapting as the way forward. I’m referring to people staying in their own little bubbles (in the story these are pods underground), isolated from the outside world, communicating via screens and other devices, relying on The Machine (big government/big pharma/big tech) to meet their needs. All they need to do is follow the rules and do as they are told and they will be housed and fed, given access to medical care and be allowed heavily censored information that has already been through ten retellings so that they can not tell fact from fiction – real news from fake news. Basically the “Facebook Factcheckers” on steroids. Original thought, unless it falls in line with the doctrine of The Machine is not only frowned upon, but could have you cast out and made homeless. This is understood to be akin to a death sentence.

Transport – physical movement – outside of your designated pod, is only achievable if you first apply for permission. Going up and outside onto the earths surface, under the sky and clouds and sunlight is discouraged and is only achievable if you wear a respirator and have permission from The Machine….sound familiar?

The human species in the story have been genetically selected (Eugenics….as promoted these days, by the likes of Bill Gates)- by The Machine – to become little more than unmoving blobs of pasty flesh, devoid of sunlight, who sit in their chairs all day connected to the outside world by their communication devices – much like plugging into virtual reality worlds of today. The only time they get out of their chairs is to go to bed. Athletic types are not allowed to breed as they are deemed unsuitable in this new world where sitting all day is the new normal.

Physical contact with other humans – to touch another person – is considered uncivilized. Everything is done (on line) via The Machine. The Machine tells them what to do, how to behave, what to think.

Not only are there parallels with the world wide covid-19 regulations, but also very ominous similarities with the World Economic Forum’s “Great Reset”. I would hate to think that we would allow ourselves to be manipulated into a dystopian nightmare such as the world described by Forster. However, the last 2 years have proved how compliant we are, on the whole. So, perhaps our fate is sealed?

BUT….that’s just my opinion. What do you think?

I’ll link E. M. Forster’s – “The Machine Stops” below. It is a PDF just 25 pages long and definitely worth a read if you haven’t come across it before.

And for those who claim that the Great Reset is nothing more than conspiracy theory, here is a link to the World Economic Forum website where you can read articles and view videos all about how our future will be, after the Great Reset, according to Klaus Schwab. Our consumer driven lifestyles and our pursuit of “progress”, profits and Capitalism is pushing us closer to Forster’s dystopian future – which is what the WEF is all about, only now they have adopted buzz words such as sustainability……sustaining their wealth perhaps?

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/now-is-the-time-for-a-great-reset/

I’m not really a cat person…

…or so I kid myself. Cat people have a reputation for being slightly crazy…or at the very least eccentric. Thankfully, my mother and her brothers always had dogs as pets, when they were children, so it was a natural follow on for me and my brother to gravitate toward dogs first as our choice of pet.

Our first dog was a black and tan Manchester Terrier cross puppy that was given to us in the local park by another boy, whose mother had told him to get rid of it. My mother was pushing my brother in the baby buggy (known then, in England, as a push-chair), as I ran on ahead through the park. By the time mum had caught up to me I was busy fussing this cute little pup, and the boy quickly explained that if we wanted it we could have the pup. Me and my brother then pretty much bullied mum into letting us keep it. You know the thing…”please mum let us keep it”…..”No”….”Oh go on mum please”….”No”….”Oh PLEEEASE mum, we’ll be ever so good won’t we Dave” to which my brother nodded so hard his head fell off….Obviously it didn’t, I was just trying to emphasize how hard he was nodding – but, never mind. Eventually after so many pleases and no’s she could stand no further whining from us and gave in. And let’s face it this technique usually works – it’s been passed down through generations…probably in our DNA….we don’t want it to be passed down obviously. We don’t want our kids knowing that continuous whining is our kryptonite do we? No matter how hard we try to suppress it…it still squeezes through, generation to generation.

At the time, the pup was very young and we weren’t absolutely sure if it was male or female. Turn it upside down and everything’s so small…and at that age they all squat to pee. The lad thought it was male so we called it Timmy – after the dog in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books. Pretty soon it became clear that Timmy was actually a girl, so a quick name change was required and Lassie was decided on. Those of us old enough remember Lassie the collie dog in the movies….”What Lassie? Tommy fell down the well?”

She quickly became my dog and would follow me everywhere without a leash, although I also trained her on the leash and she quickly learned to heel…and not to tug and pull when we went for walks. She was a lovely, really lovely dog. Affectionate, well behaved. Unfortunately one day she, my mother, my brother and me were on our way home from my grandmothers and it started to rain. I had my bike with me so mum sent me off ahead to get home to shelter. The problem was that mum thought I’d stay on the same side of the busy road that they were on. But I decided to cross it as it would be a quicker way home. Mum was distracted, putting the rain cover over the push-chair, Lassie saw me disappear into the distance, ran across the road to try to catch up to me and was struck by a car. We’d probably had her about 2 years by that time and were all devastated at her untimely death. I never stopped blaming myself.

Next, after several years, came Bess. Bess was a brown and white Springer Spaniel who’s owner, a friend of my mothers, couldn’t keep her any longer as they already had another dog and the two did not get along. The lady insisted that Bess, who was about 18 months old, was a gentle, good natured dog and never did any damage or anything naughty. Pretty soon, after a few pairs of shoes had been destroyed and Bess also tried to eat a corner off the kitchen door, we came to the conclusion that we’d been had. After discussions with people “in the know” we were told that first thing is to move anything that the dog can chew, second thing is to smear the door with something pungent or spicy tasting to put the dog off and thirdly to not let the dog get bored.

Hiding the rest of the shoes, and applying Coleman’s Strong English Mustard liberally to what was left of the door, we thought would soon solved that problem. Turns out that our dog loved spicy food. Loved mustard. Could not get enough! Yum, yum, yum…loved it! Bring on the next course….chicken vindaloo perhaps? Fortunately she loved it so much that she stopped eating the door, just licked off the mustard…..and then squirted diarrhea all over the porch where we kept her. You would not believe how much of that stinky, yellow/green slime one medium sized dog has inside it…nor how far a medium sized dog can project it. Thank God she wasn’t a Great Dane or Saint Bernard….imagine it!

I don’t want to go on about it, but I will because I don’t think you can fully appreciate what a mess it was. You know those plastic squirty bottles that hot dog mustard comes in? Imagine a bottle 100 times the size and then picture a hippopotamus or an elephant leaping from a 12 metre diving board onto it. Actually that’s stupid, how would a hippo or elephant climb up there? Imagine it a hippo climbing a ladder…just not possible is it? OK, so imagine then that by some magical way, a hippo…..or elephant is up there on the 12 metre diving board. Maybe a crane – obviously the machine, not the bird….god imagine the bird flapping like mad trying to lift a hippo…just wouldn’t work would it….ridiculous….so a crane put it up there…or helicopter…perhaps, with a harness….then again hippos and elephants don’t have fingers so how would they unfasten the harness once they were up there? Hard work this. Whatever way it got there a very large animal is up there and leaps majestically into the air and plummets onto the squeezy bottle and well, you can guess the rest.

The porch was carpeted too….yes I know….not pretty! Not fully carpeted you understand we weren’t that posh! Just old rugs laid on top of a parquet floor. My dad years earlier had got hold of this old parquet flooring rescued from some wreck of a building or other and being a true Yorkshireman…never wanting to “chuck ‘owt out”….decided to re-lay it over the concrete flagstones in our porch. You know those little gaps between the slats of wood on a parquet floor? Particularly runny diarrhea can find it’s way into any little crack or crevice. There was no way that dad was going to let us destroy his handy-work so we lived with that particular cologne for years…and years. It’s the scent that keeps on giving.

After that, it became my job to take Bess for long….very long….walks to tire her (and me) out so that neither of us were capable of getting up to any mischief. She became a well loved family member. We spoiled that dog….to the point that she became diabetic. Mum would feed it ice cream for gods sake. So yes, she died of problems caused by diabetes.

Next came Baldrick. Named after the unkempt, slightly smelly, rather stupid character from the Blackadder TV series. And to be fair he did his best to live up to the name. Not a very high target to meet granted. But despite this he was still a lovely and loved pet.

Jumping several years and my brother-in-law ended up living at our house. I won’t go into the how, why and wherefores of it, but while me and my wife were overseas on an extended holiday, my brother-in-law and his son either allowed, or more likely encouraged, a couple of kittens from next door into our house.

Who doesn’t think cats, particularly little fluffy kittens are cute….I think it can be safely said that when it comes to a little pussy….we love ’em don’t we? By which I mean a small cat, a kitten.

Well, it turns out that, at that time, I was not like most people and I was annoyed, nay outraged, that our house minders had allowed felines through the door and into my hallowed space. Rather pathetically I tried to barricade the doorway so that the cats couldn’t get in. Of course as they got older and larger, leaping over my version of the Berlin Wall became like a game to them so, in the end I simply gave in, accepted their presence and – what do you know – the little buggers grew on me.

My wife didn’t have my built in aversion to cats, having owned a cat of her own when she was a child. Actually that sentence is ridiculous, as anyone knows who has a cat as a pet…..it’s the cat that owns you!

Anyhow, my wife soon named the 2 kittens – who were brother and sister and incidentally already had other names – Tiberius and Scarlet. The 2 kittens were inseparable during the daytime and were usually to be found in one another’s company, in a sunny spot in the garden. Although Scarlet would usually go back next door at the end of the day, Tiberius….or Tibs as I shortened his name to because I didn’t want to sound pretentious calling him in….”Tiberius, Oh Tiberius, where are you?” – made our home his in a very short time.

Scarlet on the left and Tibs on the right.

Tibs would come and go throughout the day, but at night time, he’d settle down on the couch and that would be the last we’d hear of him until early morning when he’d wander into our bedroom, jump up on to the bed and then settle down on my chest and push his face into mine, just to let me know that he loved me…..actually to tell me to get up and get him breakfast.

We became firm friends. He was my confidante and we had many a long discussion. Well I talked, he just looked aloof, but I’m pretty sure he was listening to every word. Then one evening in January at 10pm, for no apparent reason, he went out the front window and never returned.

Devastated doesn’t even come close to how I felt.

Oddly the very next morning Scarlet appeared meowing constantly, with a little bundle of fluff in tow. It was as though she was saying “I know Tibs is gone, but don’t be sad, I brought you a gift”. That little bundle of fluff became a regular visitor then a permanent guest when we became official carers for him. I would say owners, but we already know who owns whom when it comes to cats.

Scarlet…the mother cat laying on the chair and our little bundle of fluff Hector (yes, of course, named by my wife).

That was almost 3 years ago. Hector is my present confidante and my new owner. He rules the roost, as it were. He’s more of a night owl than Tibs was and is frequently in and out of the cat flap during the hours of darkness, announcing his arrival with a very loud “I’m here!” – or at least I swear that’s what it sounds like. He brings home “gifts” such as dried flower heads, the occasional rabbit…. or half a rabbit (always the bottom half, never the head)….and mice…sometimes dead but more often than not, very much alive. Hector, it would appear, has signed up for the mouse catch and release program. It seems to amuse him to watch me chase the mice around the house trying to catch them again. He thinks it’s great fun.

When he’s had his fun for the night, and a feed, he’ll jump up on the bed and spread out, so my feet are wedged down a narrow strip of bed so as not to upset his highness. He’ll have a scratch, groom himself and then purr himself to sleep….where as I’ll lay there uncomfortable, very much awake and developing a cramp in my crushed legs.

You’d think that this would piss me off….the constant meowing at odd hours of the night….the mouse hunting when still half asleep and bleary eyed…the demands of “feed me” at all hours…..the lack of sleep. Some would call me insane for putting up with it, but funnily enough if I don’t hear those middle of the night calls for attention I lay awake and worry….where is he, is he ok? Crazy or just a softy? I wouldn’t have it any other way. So, when I say I’m not really a cat person I guess what I mean to say is that I wasn’t, but now I most certainly am.

Me and the boss….Hector.

Aging and the quest for the past.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this post. It just seemed to me that as I advance in years much of my time seems to be spent looking behind me….in a way yearning for the past.

My father once said to me, when I was having a really shitty time at school, that my childhood days were the best days of my life. At the time, obviously, I was skeptical, I thought “Oh great, if these are the best days, it’s all down hill from here…..the man is crazy, being an adult and in control of our lives has to be better than being a kid and being told what to do all the time”. But, now as I near retirement age I think that what I really miss is the simplicity of life back then.

The “Covid age” has brought this home more than anything else. We can’t simply go places any more. We have to scan QR codes, be tracked by the GPS on our ubiquitous cell phones, be forever on call – be connected on the off chance that someone wants to phone us, text us or “tweet”” about us. We have to justify our movements, (anti) social distance and stay in our “bubbles”, we are told who we can and can’t visit, or allow to visit us, even family members…and I won’t even mention the lunacy of mask mandates. Oops I already did.

I say lunacy because for a mask to be effective against viral particles they have to be of a quality to be able to filter out the viral particles – and to be worn and handled correctly. Most of the masks that we are “encouraged” to wear do not meet this criteria, hence the lunacy of the matter. The inefficient masks therefore become mere symbols of conformism or virtue signaling.

When I was a child – actually up until I was in my mid 20’s – we never even had a phoneline to our house. It wasn’t a necessity. If we needed to tell a friend or family member something, we’d go visit them, or if they were far away we’d write to them or, if the news was urgent, we’d use the pay phone at the end of the street. When me and my younger brother went out to play, we’d be told to be home for dinner, or before it gets dark. Our parents trusted us to have a certain amount of common sense – and we’d be gone for hours enjoying our freedom and the joy of using our imagination to entertain ourselves. I do miss that.

Now, particularly since the first lot of lockdowns in March of 2020, our lives have become more regimented, more restricted, less free. I want to point out here that when Covid-19 was first reported as some deadly virus from China with the potential to kill more than the Spanish Flu did in 1918/19 I was in full support of the New Zealand governments decision to close our borders, schools and “non-essential” businesses in order to keep Covid out of our country. The 4 week long lockdown initially made sense.

However, there has been a lot of water flowing under the bridge since then. Once it became clear that this virus was not the plague it was initially made out to be and that some of the measures enacted by government were not serving any purpose except to punish those who were not complying, I started to question what the end game was.

They say hindsight is a great thing and truly it is. Foresight would have been more helpful though, me thinks. Because of the fear generated by hype from the government and in the media about the potential deaths from the virus, we allowed the governments of the world to enact emergency legislation – which was meant to be short term – in a bid to stem the tide of the virus. These short term emergency measures are now being pushed harder and are becoming a permanent fixture, despite the obvious fact that the virus, although dangerous to the old and infirm, is not so problematical, in most cases, for the average healthy person. The powers that be then decide to mandate the vaccine on certain sections of society – based on peoples jobs mainly.

This is a vaccine in name only – because they changed the definition of what a vaccine is. We are presented with a “safe and effective vaccine” which has not gone through full clinical trials, is a new technology as far as use on humans goes….the trials end in 2023….and data will continue to be gathered for another 7 years. There have been thousands of injuries and deaths related to the vaccine, particularly causing heart problems in young males, but we are still being told it is safe and effective.

It doesn’t prevent the vaccinated from getting the virus, neither does it prevent the infected from passing on the virus to other people but we are told that the “effective” part is that it makes symptoms less harmful.

The real danger to all of us though is not the virus, or the adverse effects of the vaccine. The real danger is the authoritarian regime that has been brought in, with our approval to a certain extent, right under our noses. We have traded freedom, tradition, community and our old way of life, for perceived safety. I say perceived because the story of safety they promise us, smacks of the story of the Emperors New Clothes. It’s a falsehood, it doesn’t exist. We will never be truly free unless the system collapses either of it’s own accord, or by freedom seekers, revolutionaries, the resistance – call them what you will – deliberately collapsing it.

What we have now is a two tier society where those who have been double jabbed and are willing to keep up their vaccine status with ongoing booster shots “earn” freedoms that the unvaccinated (or as I prefer to call us “vaccine free”), or those who decide not to keep on with the endless rounds of booster shots, do not have. We become excluded from certain aspects of society such as the ability to visit a cafe, bar, restaurant or even a hairdresser. Sporting events and concerts are also a big no no for the “unclean”. What gives the government the right to force us to “earn” back our freedom? On the brighter side, not being able to dine out is saving us money.

History has shown us time and again that when this sort of thing is allowed to happen, the outcome is not good. Think apartheid…..think the treatment of the Jews in Nazi Germany…..think the Russian Revolution (or the events leading to the Russian Revolution). When totalitarian regimes are allowed to flourish, things have a habit of becoming very messy with much loss of life.

Life was certainly more straight forward back in the 60’s and 70’s before the technology age really came to power. As children me and a large number of friends (20 or more from the nearby housing estate) would play in the woods for hours on end, communing with nature, benefiting I believe from natures healing powers. We’d get our daily dose of vitamin D from the sunshine, we’d get dirty crawling through the undergrowth and climbing trees, great for building our immune system.

The writer and his wife in the woods where he enjoyed much of his childhood….and where the ashes of his parents and grandparents are scattered.

Nowadays mothers would be fussing around their pasty looking kids with lashings of sunscreen, “wet-wipes” and hand sanitizer to prevent them from picking up germs. We’d climb trees, sometimes fall from them and learn lessons from that….again, these days not many kids play in the woods all day like we used to do. They are more likely, when on rare excursions from the “safety” of the home, to be taken to a man made, purpose built playground with netting and rubber cushions to fall on, building a false belief that falling doesn’t hurt. The real world then comes as a shock to them in later years….and of course they get offended by oh so many things.

Of course, modern day children have so many other distractions – digital gaming, smart phones, tablets, laptops, smart watches – which provide all kinds of excuses to prevent them from getting out into nature, exercising…..and most importantly in my opinion….making friends (real physical friends) and developing an idea about the importance of community.

This wasn’t meant as a rant against Covid…..or against modernity. I’m not a Luddite….or, perhaps I am. I do think though that it serves as a reminder that not all “progress” is good. We seem to accept new technology, whether it be smart phones or mRNA injections or whatever….all new technology as progress, as something good and something that we need in our lives. What we should be doing is looking at each new technology separately and asking ourselves “does this benefit us as a species, as a community, or does it take away from what we already have?” This is the approach that the Amish community have. They do not shun all technology, just the technology that threatens their way of life and their sense of community. They live simply, they value one another, their community, their religious beliefs. I’m not suggesting that we should all become Amish….although that’s not altogether a bad idea.

Somewhere along the way we have become very lost and disconnected in our digitally connected lives from the physical world, from the spiritual world – whether that be organised religion or other spiritual beliefs – from one another and particularly from nature…..all of which therefore begin to lose perceived importance. Living with nature as we did back then – rather than playing god with nature, taming it, using nature as a commodity and putting a dollar value on it, as we do today – is surely preferable, more healthy and freer than the path we are now on.

These are of course just my own thoughts. I don’t expect everyone to suddenly agree with me. Frankly I’d be shocked if they did. BUT if you’re feeling down, drained, battered by the pressures of modern life, try taking a walk in the woods. Stroll at a leisurely pace, don’t rush it. Take it all in – the sights, the smells, the sounds….even the feeling of the place, it’s “spirituality” – and recharge yourself. Regain, if you can, an appreciation for nature and the simple things in life. Thank you if you have read this far and all the very best to you and yours for this new year 2022 and hopefully better things to come.

Book reviews for Preppers

I love the public library. Ours in Hastings, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand has a diverse stock of old and new, fiction and non-fiction books that keep me visiting time and again. My last visit I was looking for something to refer to to check my readiness for emergency/disaster situations.

The two books I picked up were Build the Perfect Survival Kit – 2nd Edition – by John D. McCann and The Ultimate Prepper’s Survival Guide by James Wesley Rawles…..subtitled Survive the End of the World as We Know It.

Both books were full of helpful information but I’ll start with the Prepper’s Survival Guide. It’s a very useful and easy to follow guide for beginner Preppers, but is also useful for people like myself, who have been prepping for a while, as a kind of check list to make sure we have all our ducks in a row. It’s a hard cover book with easy to follow chapters with bullet points about the risks we face and how to combat those risks. To quote a few lines from the introduction of the book….”We live in a fragile world. Modern societies are complex and surprisingly dependent on liquid fuels, power grids, telecommunications, and electronic funds transfers. Globe spanning supply chains provide our necessities of life. It doesn’t take much to disrupt any of those. If several of them went missing for an extended period, then the world would be plunged into a deep economic depression, and it is easy to see how it could descend into a full-scale collapse. Preparedness for disasters is not alarmist. Rather, given the many existential threats we face, it is wise and prudent.

Preppers used to be very much looked upon as gun loving red-necks with an arsenal of weapons, a fall-out shelter and a bunker full of freeze dried food to last them 20 years – as portrayed on the Nat. Geo. channel’s Doomsday Preppers programme. BUT, most Preppers are not like that. They are, for the most part, just ordinary people who have decided to take out some extra “insurance” against future dark days. I also believe that, since we have now been subject to around 20 months of Covid rules and regulations, the number of Preppers among us has grown considerably.

Rawles has been prepping for over 30 years now, so knows what he’s talking about and he certainly walks the talk. He has also been writing a regular Prepping blog post since 2005 called SurvivalBlog.com – The Daily Web Log for Prepared Individuals Living in Uncertain Times.

Of course being an American, the book is mainly written with Americans in mind and takes into consideration rules and regulations in force in the states, what is allowed there by right, and protected thanks to the US Constitution.

He begins by running through the many potential risks that affect us as humans – be they natural disasters like earthquakes or extreme weather, the logistical problems of feeding an ever growing world population with finite resources, possible economic/financial problems and of course political discourse, war (including biological warfare and pandemics) and climate change. It’s all written in easy to follow, straight forward language accompanied by colour and black and white illustrations, photos and maps.

Once he has explained how fragile our existence is and the hazards we face, he then goes about showing us how to prepare sufficiently to get through by not only having the right supplies and tools to cope with each potential disaster but also by preparing our minds (by having a “can do” attitude) and our bodies (health and fitness)…..because survival isn’t just about having stuff, it’s about being able to use that stuff, it’s about having a plan B and a plan C, thinking on your feet and solving problems, and it’s about eating a diet to provide you with everything your body needs to thrive in adversity.

The chapter on Self-Defense (American spelling) – is angled towards the 2nd amendment rights to have firearms (and lots of them), so is not applicable in some other countries – but he also covers Improvised Weapons, Intrusion Detection and how to Harden your House against potential marauders or robbers, by not only having affective perimeter fencing and gates and using thorny shrubs to funnel potential attackers into areas where they can be easily seen and “dealt with”, but he also discusses home improvements that can make your home much more secure. Some of his ideas seem to assume unlimited finances are available with things like security lighting, cameras, sensors, night vision and panic rooms…..things that are mostly not on my affordable things to do list. But that is the only downfall in an otherwise excellent guide book.

Other chapters deal with – The Prepared Mind – Water – Eating – Communications – Your Neighbors (American spelling) – Bugging Out or Staying Put – Plan A or Plan B – The Year After…. and finally a List of Lists (useful lists covering everything from Barter and Charity, Books, Bug-Out Bags, Vehicle Kits, Food and Water, Financial Preparation, Gardening and Outdoors, House and Home, Hygiene and Sanitation, Personal Preparations and Security).

There are notes in the book to encourage you to formulate plans tailored to your own circumstances. I enjoyed this book very much, learned a few things and had other ideas about disaster preparation confirmed.

Moving on to the 2nd book Build the Perfect Survival Kit by John D McCann…..and this will be brief.

The forward of the book says “The concept of survival can be reduced to two basic aspects: your experience and practical knowledge, and the gear you carry.”

I’ve read some very glowing reviews of this book…such as…. “This book does its job well, as it focuses on one aspect of emergency preparedness: the work you must do before the emergency itself. By focusing on the tools needed for survival, it manages to cover all the scenarios that may occur in different geographical locales, as well as what solutions must be in place (or in your pocket) before you even decide to venture outside the safety of civilization.”

And yes, it does do it’s job well, is very thorough, but is also very repetitive in places and compered to the earlier book – reviewed above – is quite a dry read. It’s more text book and less entertainment. It is thorough, but it also sent me to sleep.

The best piece of advice it gives though, as far as building your own emergency/survival kit, is to put together something that you will always have with you. Keep it small, keep it simple, keep it accessible. The most elaborate and complete Survival Kit will do you no good if its sitting on a shelf somewhere and not with you when you need it.

The Dead Don’t Die – Movie 2019 – review….of sorts.

My wife detests Zombie movies. I find it very difficult to get her to watch one with me, unless it’s a Zombie comedy movie that is. She LOVED Shaun of the Dead, so when she was scrolling through Netflix for a movie to watch and came across this one….a Zombie Comedy – The Dead Don’t Dieby Jim Yarmusch, who is himself becoming quite a cult figure for the quality of his movies, it was she who actually suggested we watch it. After I had recovered consciousness and peeled myself off the carpet, I readily agreed and after a quick viewing of the movie trailer – which looked extremely good – we settled down to be entertained by maestro Yarmusch and his all star cast. Sharing the lead were Bill Murray and Adam Driver – two actors who can really put the dead into dead-pan. Assisted by other names such as Tilda Swinton as a rather unconventional samurai sword swinging funeral director, Selena Gomez as a “hipster probably from Pittsburgh”, Danny Glover is the owner of a hardware store that sells everything you could possibly need to kill zombies with and Steve Buscemi as a red-neck Trump supporting farmer who wears a red baseball cap with Make America White Again as its slogan.

The Dead Don't Die.jpeg

Iggy Pop makes an appearance as a coffee loving zombie, Tom Waits plays Hermit Bob – a bearded backwoodsman hermit initially accused of stealing Steve Buscemi’s chickens – who watches the whole zombie apocalypse unfold from the fringes of his wooded encampment and rapper RZA brings up this trifecta of muso’s….and there are still more musicians who make a cameo appearance. One of these is the Sturgill Simpson who as well as briefly playing a character known as “guitar zombie” also sings the movie theme song “The Dead Don’t Die”……which is plugged several times throughout the movie (whenever a radio is switched on), including one scene where Bill Murray – who plays Police chief Cliff Robertson asks fellow officer Ronnie Peterson, played by Driver “How do I know this song?” – Driver absolutely deadpan replies “It’s the theme song” (of the movie).

Several times in the movie Driver’s character says “This is all gonna end badly”…..eventually Murray’s character asks him why he keeps saying this, like he knows something bad is going to happen. Driver replies “Jim showed me the script” – referring to director Jim Yarmusch.

All this happens in a small sleepy town in middle America with a lot of cliche characters. The basic premise of the movie is that somehow (possibly something to do with fracking at the earths poles) the rotational spin of the earth goes off kilter resulting in watches stopping, weird animal behaviour, it still being daylight late into the evening….oh yes, and zombies reanimating from corpses.

You’ll get the general idea from the trailer – I’ll provide the link at the end of this post. Actually the trailer is so much better than the movie. Save yourselves a lot of time and effort and watch the trailer instead of sitting through the movie.

There are characters in the movie who just seem to be there as a fill in, or as a favour to a mate or something….can I be in your movie…..yes sure I’ll make up a character for you who appears a couple of times but we never know why they are in the movie, or what happens to them during the zombie apocalypse. An example being a group of 3 kids in juvenile detention, who appear in a few scenes. They manage to escape the detention centre when it becomes over run with zombies but then go out onto streets overflowing with zombies but we never find out if they are eaten or survive. There just doesn’t appear to be a reason for including them in the movie at all. There’s no back story and they just go out into the night. AND, when a heavily Scottish accented Swinton is slashing her way through a crowd of zombies and a UFO appears overhead, I almost hit the off button. My wife and I looked at one another in disbelief and remarked “WHAT??!!”

The movie got mixed reviews from critics, most giving it mid range marks….not a great movie but not terrible either. There were snippets of brilliance but not enough to save it from mediocrity. And I must say I haven’t fully made my mind up. My initial reaction is it failed to live up to expectations….was too cliched…too laid back…too deadpan…..but maybe that’s what Yarmusch was going for…in which case it’s genius!. Perhaps I should give it another viewing in a year, or five….when very drunk. Either way, not quite the homage to zombies I was hoping for. I’ll give it a mid range 5.5 out of 10….and put it down to Yarmusch having an off day.

Movie trailer link below.

(5) THE DEAD DON’T DIE | Official Trailer | Focus Features – YouTube

The Queen of Crime Drama?

My latest visit to the public library netted me the 2 books I have already blogged about recently (both of them in the Zombie genre), plus Lynda La Plante’s Widows – written almost 40 years ago.

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I haven’t read any of La Plante’s work before and probably wouldn’t have chosen this book at all (since there isn’t a single Zombie in it – I say only half jokingly), had it not been for bumping into an old work colleague in the library who enthusiastically recommended it. Funnily enough, he had never been much of a reader himself, until the Covid lockdowns started…..and now he’s a book addict. Thank goodness something positive has come out of this whole Covid mess.

Anyhow, back to the book. The cover proclaims La Plante as the “Queen of Crime Drama”. Frankly I had my doubts, but having just finished the book, for a story that is now a little dated, having been written in the early 1980’s, it is rather good.

I won’t be rushing out in search of another of her books straight away, but I will probably read another one or two at some point down the line.

The story has been made into a TV series on British TV back in the 80’s and remade as a feature film in 2018. I remember watching the original series but couldn’t recall the various twists and turns of the story in detail until reading the book this week.

It’s a good story with strong female characters but somewhat stereotypical male crime gang members and the usual hard working but under appreciated London copper (police detective) out to prove his bosses and fellow officers wrong.

The general outline of the story is that 3 women are widowed when a security van robbery goes terribly wrong and their husbands – the would be robbers – are blown up and burned badly in the botched heist. One of the would be robbers is gangland boss Harry Rawlins. After having to identify what’s left of his burned body – his distraught wife Dolly identifies him based on his very expensive gold watch that he never takes off – she then discovers Harry’s bank deposit box containing a gun, money, business (that’s crime business) ledgers which names names and gives details of some very shady crime-land business, and detailed plans for the botched robbery.

Dolly has several options available to her. She could hand Harry’s ledgers to the police, in the form of under appreciated and rather slovenly looking D.I. Resnick and shut down half of the crime gangs in London; she could sell them to the underworld thugs who are eager to take over Harry’s turf; or she could bring in the other widows, of the failed raid, into the fold and form her own gang to finish the job that their husbands had failed to do.

It’s no real surprise and therefore not really a spoiler to tell you that Dolly decides on the last option and pulls together her gang of misfit widows to attempt to pull off a physically demanding robbery that their well built, criminally hardened and street wise husbands had failed to do. What could possibly go wrong?

Part way through their planning to replicate the robbery – less, of course, the explosion and fire carnage – they realise that the original plan that Harry devised would need 4 men, not 3……so who was the 4th man and where is he now? AND who should they draft in as the 4th woman for their team?

La Plante writes a very good story. I’m happy to report that she doesn’t spare the splattering of blood along the way either. Let’s face it gangland crime stories demand their ample share of blood and gore. There are several bone crunching, blood splattering moments strewn liberally throughout the story. We also experience the full spectrum of emotions felt by the widows as they firstly cope with the loss of their husbands and then deal with the stomach churning angst and thrills of plotting the robbery of a security van….involving stolen vehicles, disguises, shotguns, chainsaws and sledge hammers….and a gas mask. We are taken along for the ride and see the women slowly coming together as a team, even if personal differences will mean that it’s unlikely that they will ever be friends….or will they?

La Plante asks many questions of the plot and characters and gives us all the answers, including a couple of rather unexpected ones that I won’t mention here. But what we want to know as avid readers is…….Will they be successful where their menfolk failed? If they do pull off the robbery, will they get away from both the police and the underworld criminal fraternity? Who will they choose as their 4th team member? Will we find out who the 4th man in Harry’s team is? And will he be detrimental to the widows plans? I’ll say no more for fear of slipping up and giving a big spoiler away. Needless to say that not everything is as it seems to be.

All in all it’s a bloody good story – and I mean that both literally and figuratively speaking. Definitely worth a read. So, is Lynda La Plante the Queen of Crime Drama? Actually….she could well be.

As usual, many thanks for reading this blog. Comments, likes and shares are always appreciated.

Another rip roaring tale from Jonathan Maberry.

Wikipedia says – Patient Zero is a 2009 novel by American writer Jonathan Maberry and the first book in the Joe Ledger series. It was first published on March 3, 2009 through St. Martin’s Griffin and follows a detective that must help prevent the world from being terrorized by a bioweapon that turns humans into zombies.

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But it’s much more than that. Don’t write it off as “just another Zombie novel”. As Wiki says, it’s the first book in Maberry’s Joe Ledger series of books, and having already read King of Plagues – the third book in the series, which I blogged about in an earlier post – as a Mayberry and as a Joe Ledger fan….and let’s face it a fan of Zombies, I knew I had to read this book. The one that started it all. There are, by the way, now 10 books in the series. It was initially optioned for a TV series but as of yet nothing has happened as far as production goes.

Maberry researches his technical information thoroughly and for this book consulted many experts in their field, including Michael Sicilia who is the Public Affairs Manager with the California Office of Homeland Security, Exercise and Training Branch. He is the project manager of the Public Officials Initiative, which trains and exercises elected officials on their crucial role as crisis communicators in catastrophic emergencies – Staff at the Philadelphia Forensic Science Bureau – doctors working in the Department of Molecular Pathology and Neuropathology. He likes to get his tech info as factual as possible. Almost everything as regards surveillance, computer and weapons systems are real although some are not yet available on the commercial market.

The science, the prion diseases are also real…but the parasites and disease which cause the “zombie pathogen are fictitious (thank goodness)…BUT are based on and inspired by similar pathogens known about in science.

Getting back to the book….without any spoilers….you’ll just have to take my word for what a rip-snorter of an action packed story this is. We follow Joe Ledger, who at the start of the book is a police detective (ex army, martial arts expert), off duty and enjoying the waves… and the girls in bikinis, at his local beach. His peaceful day is ruined when he is approached by 3 large men with FBI I.D. who ask him to accompany them….in their car to a destination unknown.

And so begins the recruitment of Joe Ledger into the newly formed and highly secret DMS – The Department of Military Sciences (answering only to the President….or is the leader of this organization, the mysterious Mr Church, answerable to no one?). These are the guys responsible for snuffing out terrorist plots before they happen….the terrorist plots that never make it into the news media reports. We’ve all heard of black ops…..this department deals with a much, much darker shade of black.

Ledger has been brought in to lead an elite team of terrorist hunters, and in this story Zombie hunters, who threaten the existence of human kind, planet wide.

Even before Ledger can get settled in and start to train his team, he’s thrown in at the deep end…straight into one death defying mission after another. It’s fast paced stuff!

As the blurb on the back of the book cover says “When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, then there’s either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world. And there’s nothing wrong with my skills.”

Yes…as you can see by that short smidgen of dialogue from the book, Maberry writes in the first person. He becomes Joe Ledger…or does Joe Ledger become him? Either way, and I noticed this in the King of Plagues book too, in some parts of the story it makes the writer (or the Hero) sound like a bit of a big head….a know all….a big I AM. To put it in a really cheesy / corny way – All men want to be Joe Ledger and all women want to be with him! That’s the way that Maberry wants his readers to view the hero of the hour. But, if you can get past that aspect of Maberry’s writing, you will enjoy this action packed story…..3 zombie slaying missions in 24 hours is as full on as it gets believe me!

Of course there is also a little dark humour, plus the all important romantic link to a female team member, a smattering of merciless terrorists, a power crazy multi-billionaire (think Bill Gates on steroids) and a mad, but very lustful scientist thrown in for good measure. …Oh and hundreds of bloodthirsty, brain munching zombies. You don’t have to think very much reading the Joe Ledger series….frankly he doesn’t give you the time to think as he barrels you along from one burst of action to another. This is definitely not a book that will exercise your grey matter, but for pure adrenaline rushing entertainment I loved it and got through it in 2 reading sessions…..not a lot of work achieved by me during that time, but worth it.

I’ll end with a few quotes of recommendation for the book …. but other than that, thanks for reading. Comments are always welcome.

Deserves to take his place among the best suspense writers of recent years” – John Connoly

His writing is powerful enough to sing with poetry while simultaneously scaring the hell out of you” – Tess Gerritsen

Scary, creepy and gripping…Patient Zero is Night of the Living Dead meets Michael Crichton” – Joseph Finder

Minority Report – Philip K Dick

Having read Philip K Dick’s Man in a High Castle a while back I was delighted and excited to spot a copy of his story Minority Report in a second hand book store. I knew a movie had been made of the story starring Tom Cruise but otherwise knew little about it. I was initially disappointed to discover that it wasn’t a full length novel, but was “only” a short story.

However, having now read said short story, plus several more in this collection of short stories, I am back to being delighted and excited once more. I realize I am a little slow on the uptake, but Philip K Dick is a Sci Fi genius…..and as a predictor of the future (much like George Orwell was hailed for his dystopian novel 1984), this collection of stories sets Philip K Dick head and shoulders above his peers. (And I think I just got away with using the phrase Dick Head in a completely accidental manner).

Both Dick and Orwell died well before their time. Orwell was only 46, Dick was 54. Both were excellent story tellers, but where Dick was a master of Science Fiction novels (44) and short stories (121), Orwell was mainly known as a journalist, essayist and writer of realism and only wrote a total of 6 novels.

But, there are similarities. Orwell’s Thought Police and Dick’s Department of Precrime for instance are both there to punish the citizens for crimes they haven’t yet committed.

Of the stories in this collection it’s difficult to find the weakest link. The book opens with a strong lead story which is of course Minority Report. Set in the future, the Department of Precrime relies on the predictions of 3 “precogs” – clairvoyant humans who’s babblings are deciphered by the computer they are all linked to – who usually come up with separate but unanimous decisions about future murders about to be committed. I say these predictions are usually unanimous, but sometimes only 2 of the 3 will agree – so a majority decision, a majority report is published and the future murderer is arrested and charged for a murder they haven’t yet committed, based on the majority decision. Of course if there is a majority report, there is also the minority report which is the decision of the odd one out. The department has murders down almost 100% and everything is working well until the head of the department finds his name on a card, spat out by the computer, that predicts that he will murder someone who’s name is not even familiar to him. Since the computer and the precogs are “never wrong” a warrant for his arrest is issued…..can he escape and prove his innocence by getting hold of the minority report? Of course the story written in 1956 is somewhat different to the action movie filmed in 2002 which includes technology not thought of by Dick back in the 50’s but the principle is the same.

Imposter is the second story. Again set in the not too distant future, Spence Olham is part of a team designing a weapon to be used against invading Aliens. He is accused by a co-worker and the head of security of being an android imposter sent by the Aliens to destroy the weapon. (Movie of the same name made 2001)

Second Variety is 3rd off the block set in a dystopian future on a battlefield where the Americans have designed small but deadly A.I. robotic drones with pincers and sharp blades that slash the enemy (Russian) troops. These robots have been taught to replicate themselves in underground factories within the battlefield. But the authorities have underestimated the growing intelligence of the A.I.’s (Made into a movie titled Screamers in 1995).

War Game – takes place in a building where futuristic interplanetary toys designed on Ganymede – a moon of Jupiter – are tested for safety before being allowed to be sold to the public. The humans in general don’t trust the Ganymedans as they always seem to be on the cusp of invading Earth. One game is a war game, where a dozen soldiers attempt to attack and breach the defences of a citadel. After each failure the soldiers re assemble and try a different tactic. The testers suspect that the citadel may contain a nuclear device. The second game is actually a suit that once put on takes the wearer into an alternate reality….and the third game is a board game similar to monopoly, called Syndrome.

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!

This story “War Game” is one where I am about to reveal the end of the story so if you intend to read it skip the next couple of paragraphs.

The testers of the games decide that of the three games only the Syndrome board game is deemed to be safe for release to the general population and doesn’t constitute a threat to mankind. A toy salesman takes one of the games home to let his kids try out. He decides to show them how to play. Having been familiar with the game monopoly gives him, he believes, an advantage and pretty soon he has acquired all the property, shares in businesses and money and he declares himself the winner. The kids look puzzled and point out that, according to the instruction booklet, the aim of the game is to get rid of your properties, shares and wealth….so in fact the father had lost and the kids played off again to find out who was the winner. The father, was annoyed that it had taken the monopoly rules and turned them on their head, but the important thing was that his kids were enjoying playing the game. And the quote a couple of lines …evidently it would sell well. Already the two youngsters were learning the naturalness of surrendering their holdings. They gave up their stocks and money avidly, with a kind of trembling abandon. Glancing up, her eyes bright Lora said “It’s the best educational toy you ever brought home, Dad!”

Dick wrote War Game in 1959 – incidentally, but inconsequentially, my year of birth – however I can’t but help seeing the parallels here with Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum and his Great Reset plan – You Will Own Nothing and YOU Will Be Happy.

OK SPOILER OVER

The next…the fifth story is What Dead Men Say – again a futuristic story where the dead can, if the body is chilled correctly immediately after death and monitored carefully, be revived for a series of “half-life” appearances. But when they try to bring wealthy businessman Louis Sarapis back, something goes wrong. The revival of his body fails, but seemingly from the other side of the universe his disembodied voice is transmitted over the airwaves creating all kinds of plot twists.

Oh to be a Blobel! is the next offering. A human who used to be an interplanetary spy and underwent treatment to change his physical appearance to the of a Blobel – a little like a huge jelly-fish – in order to spy on another planet, was initially told that his physical transformation would be a temporary thing. It turns out that this was incorrect and he would now spend part of his day in human form and part as this huge blob of jelly……which brings about numerous trials and tribulations in his life and his quest to find a woman who understands and accepts him. I believe that the story has a lot to do with how one sees oneself. Self worth and what constitutes “success”.

The Electric Ant – is a story about a man (Garson Poole) who, after having a work accident and finding himself in hospital is told that he’s not actually human, but some sort of flesh covered android. This comes as a great shock to him and after he is sent home we follow his thought processes in his search for the meaning of life….of his life that is….and how, or even if, his life affects those around him.

Faith of our Fathers – is about a communist dictatorship where the population is kept in line by giving them hallucinogenic drugs. One day Tung Chien a mid level bureaucrat is given an anti hallucinogen by a crippled street vender which allows him to see the world as it actually is. (Includes communism, drugs, sex and god.)

We Can Remember it for You Wholesale – is another futuristic story in which space travel is only for the rich. But for a fraction of the cost of a space flight ticket, you can have an experience implanted into your brain so that you actually believe that you have made, in this case, a trip to Mars….and they provide you with helpful souvenirs as memory prompts. It features reality, false memories and real memories. The story was adapted in the 1990 movie Total Recall starting Arnold Schwarzenegger….and the 2012 remake with Colin Farrell in the staring role. Douglas Quail has a boring office job. He has always wanted to visit Mars but has been constantly put off the idea by his wife. He then discovers a company called Rekal where you can have “false” memories implanted into your brain which make you think that you have been to Mars, along with all the sensory effects. However when under sedation to have the false memories implanted, somehow he regains some long ago erased memories of who he really is.

All in all this is a really thought provoking collection of stories and well worth the few dollars to acquire this 2002 printed 2nd hand paperback.

If you’ve never read any of Philip Dick’s stories, this book would be a wonderful place to dip your toes into the magical waters of his strange and wonderful mind.

Again, thank you for reading this post. Comments always appreciated.

A few movie trailers of Dick’s books made into movies – for your amusement.

Happy New Year …. plus 3 book reviews.

It seems like an eternity since I have written a blog post…..probably because is has been, almost, an eternity since I have written a blog post….or read anyone else’s – Please forgive me. A combination of being busy, being lazy and enjoying reading a few good books lead me to ignore my WordPress blog for far too long. However, a New Year deserves a fresh start.

Lets hope that the horrors of 2020 are behind us and let me wish everyone a hopeful, healthy and happy 2021.

One good thing about covid, lockdowns and a change of lifestyle is that I have had time to read a few more books over the last few months, and I’d like to offer up reviews of the last 3 books I’ve most recently finished reading.

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The first of which is a large format (coffee table sized) hard cover book by Tom Shone about the movies of Woody Allen, titled Woody Allen A Retrospective. Bought for me for my birthday, by my lovely wife. I’ve long been a fan of Allen’s movies – yes even the bad ones – and am not one to be put off by the bad press he’s received from the “Me Too Movement” and the police investigation into child molestation allegations. Allegations which incidentally were found by police to have zero foundation in truth. Allen even submitted to a polygraph test to prove his innocence…..something that his accuser, ex partner Mia Farrow refused to take. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned….and I guess when ones partner takes up with your adopted daughter, you are going to feel rather scornful. Readers please draw your own conclusions. I realize that some readers will be thinking something along the lines of “there’s no smoke without fire” but please judge the man by his work, not by unsubstantiated rumours about his personal life.

Anyhow, back to the book. There’s nothing earth shatteringly new to be learned in this book, for fans of Woody Allen, but it is a useful reference guide to his movies from the very beginning of his career in films (What’s New Pussycat? in 1965) up to and including the 2015 movie – Irrational Man. So, his last 4 movies – at the time of writing – Cafe Society (2016), Wonder Wheel (2017), A Rainy Day In New York (2019) and 2020 movie Rifkin’s Festival are not included in this retrospective.

His output is quite prolific averaging a movie each year and since very early in his movie directing career he obtained and maintained the independence to make movies on whatever subject and in whatever manner he wanted to. He is a creature of habit and likes structure. Now in his mid 80’s Allen shows little sign of slowing down and will probably die while directing or writing the script of yet another in his long list of over 50 movies. According to the opening paragraph of the book, he rises at 6.30am, gets his children ready for school, endures a short spell on the treadmill, then sits to write at his manual Olympia SM-3 typewriter – which was bought when he was 16 and still works.

The book is full of anecdotes, quotes, movie summaries and photographic stills from each movie covered and is a must for Woody Allen fans. No one could accuse him of being big headed about his achievements – if anything he is self depreciating, but at the same time, appreciative of the fame and ability to live as he chooses, that his career has delivered him. A couple of quotes to illustrate this are “I would hardly call it genius, but I do sometimes have a sudden flash.” – and – “(1973 movie) Sleeper showed me audiences enjoyed watching me, which I find hard to believe.”

He says that if he didn’t make movies, if he didn’t work, then he’d sit at home and brood and think and his mind would drift to unsolvable issues that are very depressing. On the subject of death a couple of quotes sum Allen up nicely one is “I do not believe in an afterlife, although I am bringing a change of underwear.” And the other is “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying.” I must say I’m with him on that last one.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, will keep it close to hand for reference, and recommend it whole heartedly. 5 / 5 from me.

The second book is a complete change of genre One Second After by William R Forstchen is a fictional tale about a very real threat, an EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) that sends catastrophic shockwaves throughout the United States of America. It follows the life of one man, a history professor and former US Army Colonel and his family, in a small North Carolina town. One minute enjoying every day life with all its modern conveniences and One Second After an EMP explodes over the centre of continental North America they are thrust back into the dark ages….the electrical grid and society as a whole in tatters.

I’ve read a lot of similar “Prepper” fiction before, but where as the typical prepper novel is about people who are usually prepared for an apocalyptical event, in this novel we take a look at the unprepared. At people who can’t even fathom, at least initially, what it is that has taken out the power grid and also caused all modern motor vehicles to suddenly stop….not to mention make planes fall from the skies.

I believe that it gives a fairly life like look at how quickly and how totally modern life, with all it’s morality, it’s rules, laws and principles, can come crashing down into chaos, anarchy and even cannibalism. It’s an interesting book to use as a talking point to discuss disaster preparedness – whether the disaster is natural or man made – with friends and family. As the preppers say “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”

There is no electricity – so no ATM’s for getting out cash, no contactless payments, no transport, no refrigeration of food. Even hospital’s emergency back up generators were fried by the pulse and are out of commission. People die in their thousands in a very short time. There’s no power for pumping stations to supply water to cities. Food, water and prescription medication are in short supply. Things go bad very quickly.

I’m not going to discuss the story at all as I don’t want to give away any spoilers. I’ll just say that if dystopian or apocalyptic novels are your thing, don’t miss this book. I read it in two sitting I was absolutely hooked. If I hadn’t been so tired I would have stayed up all night to read it. Even if dystopia and the apocalypse are not your thing, it’s still a good book to read so that you can be aware of how thin our moral thread can be. How fragile civilized humanity is. If you’re not a Prepper before you read it….you will be after.

Read it – another 5 / 5 from me.

And finally…..drum roll please…..book number 3

Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops by Shaun Bythell. This is Bythell’s third published book about his experiences as owner of a second hand book shop. The first two being Diary of a Bookseller and Confessions of a Bookseller – both former books are told in the format of a daily diary. I personally enjoyed both the Diary of and Confessions of a Bookseller as I am a self confessed bibliophile, eager browser of bookshops and a huge fan of Bythell’s rather irreverent humour….usually at the expense of his customers or staff.

Bythell’s latest offering is a change of format, written in paragraphs and chapters instead of the usual diary entries. He attempts to humorously categorize his book shop customers into various types and subtypes as well as taking a self depreciating look at bookshop owners and staff. I was looking forward to my usual fits of giggles and guffaws that I was reduced to when reading his two previous books. I’m not sure why, but this one fell flat and left me wondering if he’d finally exhausted his big box of bookshop anecdotes. There were still moments that made me smile, but no real laugh out loud moments and I must admit to feeling a little disappointed. As a book, albeit a rather small and thin volume of less than 140 pages, it is an OK read and I knocked it off in one evening. If it had been my first venture into Bythell’s world I would have probably been raving about it, but as a third book – sorry, but it didn’t meet the previous standards. I really do hate to say that, because I genuinely like the guy. I met him when he visited New Zealand’s book town Featherston when promoting his first book – the previously mentioned Diary of a Bookseller – firstly having a nice chat in a bookshop where I was doing a little 2nd hand book browsing (and buying as usual) and then at a speaking event to promote the book. He is a genuinely nice fellow and it pains me to speak badly of Seven Kinds of People.

If you’ve never read Bythell then by all means buy this book before you read the others….read it and enjoy it and then move on to the first and second books for a proper laugh.

Sorry Shaun but only a 2 / 5 for this offering.