Monday, September 29, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Hell is empty and all the devils are here."

William Shakespeare - The Tempest


Conversation overheard in Hyde Park:

"Are you born again?"

No, actually. Reincarnated.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Counting Sheep

Sleep. Its so easy to take it for granted, until you don’t have it. Then all hell breaks loose. Not really – if you haven’t slept, then you wont have the energy for hell. In fact, burning to a crisp in the fires of damnation might sound like a good way to go. It would probably be more peaceful.

One person that doesn’t take sleep for granted is Lucy Kellaway, as she documents in A Point of View on the BBC website. I seem to have a frighteningly great deal in common with her. Apart from visiting Chinese doctors. I haven’t had that pleasure…

‘I went to visit a Chinese doctor. Ah yes, he said, insomnia. Very serious. He looked at my tongue and shook his head. Was I worrying about anything, he asked. I said I was worrying about not sleeping.
By way of reassurance he told me that insomnia had already made my hair dry and skin wrinkled and would in time lead to organ failure and early menopause, and would also destroy my relationships with my family and colleagues. Even my mum, I think, wouldn't have gone that far.’

The really frustrating thing is there isn’t really anything you can do about it and lying there worrying just makes things worse. I find that getting up for a while and doing something else, before going back to bed and trying again to sleep sometimes helps. But often it doesn’t.

‘Alternatively one can give up trying to use the time productively and count sheep instead. Yet this didn't work for the singer Robert Wyatt. In his song Heaps of Sheep, the animals, once counted and over the stile, refused to go further and piled up creating a vast writhing heap, causing the sleepless singer to be so traumatised he could no longer even close his eyes.’ Lucy Kellaway
Being without sleep is like torture. In fact, it is often used as such. It wears you down, leaving you more and more like a gibbering wreck. Unable to think, unable to do anything but sit, staring like a zombie, but with your mind still whirring like the exercise wheel of a gerbil high on sugar.
And heaven help anyone who tries to talk to you. Ratty (or gerbilly) doesn’t even come close. Hyper and running on adrenaline one moment, close to tears the next. You know what’s worse? ‘Missing out on sleep may cause the brain to stop producing new cells, a study has suggested.’

Well, that’s just bloody great. How very typical of my life. I can’t sleep, my brain cells are giving up and I’m going slowly mad.

Ok, ok, those of you who know me know I’ve been mad for a while. But still. Going slowly madder.

Withdrawal symptoms

So, glossing over the fact that I just tried to spell ‘withdrawal’ with a ‘c’ ('witchdrawal'? don’t ask…) I’ve just realised I haven’t watched any Time Team in aaaages. Other than about 5 minutes last weekend when I was being distracted by people talking to me, which doesn’t count.

How has this happened? Well, I know why – no access to a TV for the last, oooh, couple of months, has prevented me from watching that glorious programme.

So what can I do? Um. Not a lot. *cries*
Does anyone know if Time Team is available on DVD? Is there even a market for Time Team DVDs? Other than me, of course…

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Quote(s) of the day

Cole: Why would I ever not want to talk to you?
Phoebe: I don't know, you know, just in case you thought I was a drunk or a lunatic, or a drunk lunatic.

Don't you think you're being a little paranoid?
Phoebe: With my demon ex-husband from hell?

from Charmed (Seasons/Episodes unknown...)

Autumn Equinox

It’s nearly the autumn equinox, one of the eight Sabbats (major festivals) of the Pagan calendar or ‘Wheel of the Year’. In honour of this, I thought I’d explain a little bit about the Sabbat (sometimes called Mabon).
The Autumn Equinox is one of three harvest festivals in the Wheel of the Year (the other two being Lammas at the beginning of August and Samhain at the end of October). It is a festival of thanksgiving for the harvest, of celebration for a (hopefully) good yield and a time of slaughtering livestock and preserving food for the winter ahead.
It is also a time for relaxing and enjoying the ‘fruits of the harvest’ (although with this year’s credit crunch, we may need to be doing more storing of fruits than enjoying…!)

The change from longer days to longer nights as dark conquers light is closely associated to the Sun God’s journey from strong (in the Summer) to aging and dying (in Autumn) until his eventual death (at Yule) before his rebirth and growth (in Spring). This is middle age transforming into old age with its declining strength.
This change is mirrored in the turning of the Earth Goddess’ year: she is changing from Mother (maternal, productive, warm and caring) to Crone (symbolising wisdom, healing and rest) before her death and rebirth as Maiden.

Autumn Equinox traditions are primarily based around the last sheaf of the harvest. This was sometimes woven into a large man or woman (a la ‘Wickerman’ but minus the human sacrifices) and burned in celebration. The ashes would be scattered on the fields to ensure next year’s fertility. In some areas, the last sheaf was stored safely through the winter and ploughed back into the field in the Spring.
Small corn dollies were sometimes made from the last sheaf and kept in houses during the winter as a protection from evil spirits.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Groom me...

Its official – stroking causes humans to feel pleasure
And hugs, of course.

So will I be taking it too far if I purr?

End of the world/weekend

Why, oh, why do Monday mornings have to happen? Can we not just skip straight to Monday afternoon? Or how about Tuesday? Wouldn’t the world be a happier place if we went to bed on Sunday night, dreading Monday morning and instead woke up and it was magically Tuesday…

There’s something about that moment of dread as you drift off to sleep: ‘No, no, damn it! Must…. not… sleep… must… postpone… Monday…’ There’s that little knot in your stomach, that utter misery of the weekend being over. Even if your weekend hasn’t even been that great (and for the record, my weekend has been pretty close to perfect) you still don’t want it to end. And it has nothing to do with your enjoyment of work/school/uni/retirement/other existence.

I think I know why. It’s about control. Well, it is for me anyway. I love having the flexibility of suddenly deciding to read my book for half an hour. Or go shopping. Or stay in bed. Or have a drink. I don’t like being told what to do. Yes, I’m a typical woman. Stubborn as hell, and for no good reason.

So what I really dread about the week (other than not being able to be in a small village in Hampshire) is not being able to do what I want, when I want. I’d happily work into the evening, take 30 minutes to wander around Hyde Park, 5 minutes to do the washing up etc etc. And you know what? I’d probably get more work done…

Or perhaps not. Perhaps what I really want is a 6 day week – 4 days working, 2 days off. Much better.

Quote of the Day

Britain’s most famous fertility symbol is having an epic makeover. Volunteers are to re-chalk the 180ft Cerne Abbas giant. Warden Rob Rhodes, of the National Trust, which owns the site, said: ‘He is hard to pick out.’

from The Daily Mail
Am I very childish that I find this funny?!

Friday, September 12, 2008


So I’m planning on starting a new semi-regular topic called ‘Conversations Overheard on The Street’ or COTS. Or possibly COOTS, I’m not sure yet.
It amazing what you overhear as you wend your merry way along streets, roads, paths and bridleways. Some of them can stop you in your tracks by their sheer stupidity, some because they sound so interesting you wonder if it would be considered strange to strike up a conversation with the utterrer…
This will be a fairly rarely updated topic, due to my habit of wandering around with headphones stuck in my ears. But occasionally I go out ipod-free, and sometimes I hear things….

‘I’m so fed up with all these good-looking guys with less personality than a hamster. I’m switching to interesting guys - I don’t care if they’re ugly.’

And today's award for least-shallow person in London goes to…..

Quote(s) of the day

A definite Pratchett theme today:

This is very similar to the suggestion put forward by the Quirmian philosopher Ventre, who said, "Possibly the gods exist, and possibly they do not. So why not believe in them in any case? If it's all true you'll go to a lovely place when you die, and if it isn't then you've lost nothing, right?" When he died he woke up in a circle of gods holding nasty-looking sticks and one of them said, "We're going to show you what we think of Mr Clever Dick in these parts..."
Terry Pratchett – Hogfather

It is said that whosoever the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. In fact, whosoever the gods wish to destroy, they first hand the equivalent of a stick with a fizzing fuse and Acme Dynamite Company written on the side. It's more interesting, and doesn't take so long.
Terry Pratchett – Soul Music

One of the universal rules of happiness is: always be wary of any helpful item that weighs less than its operating manual.
Terry Pratchett – Jingo

A Pagan in hell

For Richard...

A Pagan dies and, to his great surprise, he finds himself standing before some pearly gates. The Pagan asks, "Where am I?"
Peter says, "You're at the gates of heaven."
The Pagan says, "But I don't believe in heaven."
Peter frowns at him. "You're one of those Pagans, aren't you?"
"Yes. I believe I'm in the wrong place; I'm supposed to go to Summerland."
Peter looks a bit shifty and says, "Sorry. We, uh, took over Summerland, and it's temporarily closed for remodelling."
"What should I do now?"
Peter says, "Well, since we don't allow Pagans in heaven, you have to go to hell. Sorry. Just follow that path that leads downward and to the left."

The Pagan walks down to hell, where the gates are standing open. He walks in and finds beautiful meadows, happy animals, and clear streams of water. He walks on in and begins exploring, and after a few minutes a courtly gentleman walks up to him and bows politely.
"Hello, I'm Satan. You must be the guy that St. Peter phoned me about. Are you a Pagan?"
"Yes, I am. What's going to happen now?"
Satan says, "Well, the fishing's pretty good, if you enjoy that sort of thing. There's a little refreshment stand down the road. And I believe the Pagan meeting grounds are right over the next hill." The Pagan starts to relax, thinking things might have worked out ok.

Suddenly, a hole opens up in the sky above, and a yawning chasm opens directly underneath it. The stench of sulphur fills the air. Hundreds of screaming, tortured souls drop down into the flaming pit, which immediately closes up with a thud.
The Pagan nearly has a heart attack, and hardly believing what he just saw, thinking he’s just found the catch in the deal, asks Satan, "And what was THAT ???"

Satan rolls his eyes. "Oh, just ignore them. They're Christians; they wouldn't have it any other way."

Death. Part 1

Continuing my recent ramble on life, here is death. Not literally of course (well, I hope not) but certainly a ramble on and around the topic death. Suitably cheerful for a Friday afternoon, I feel.
Now, I can’t promise this wont turn into a rant. Rants seem to creep up on me unannounced when I’m blogging. Nor can I promise this wont end up completely off-topic. But so what? It’s my blog, so, nye-nye-nye-nye-nye.

What is death then? Is it really the end? Do we just disappear from the planet, leaving our bodies to rot in a hole? Having recently re-watched the episodes of Torchwood season 2 dealing with Owen’s ‘death’ (Dead Man Walking and A Day in the Death – sorry if you haven’t seen them yet…), the idea of there just being nothing but darkness is quite a disturbing thought.

But is death terrifying because we fear the unknown? Have we created various myths of an afterlife to stave of those moments in the middle of the night when you sit there, pondering your existence and wondering if it’s ever going to get any better?

Or is it a very Pratchett-esque situation, that whatever we believe happens comes true for us? In which case, I’m going to be resting in the Summerland for a while before reincarnating (hopefully not as a frog this time – that’s another story). In short: Paaaartaaaay! Care to join me, anyone?!

I’d like to think there is something after this life, and not just because the thought helps me to sleep. I just like the idea if there being something more to it than ‘wake up, get up, eat, work, eat, work, socialise, have a bath, eat, drink some wine, go to bed, try to sleep’. Because if there is nothing beyond that, no afterlife, no heaven, no souls or spirits going on to a better place, then what does that say about gods and goddesses? It seems to me that you can’t really have one without the other. You can’t have a spiritual entity if you have no spirit. If you have a spirit, what happens to it? Does it just dissipate at death? And if it does, then what’s the point in having one?

So, I believe in an afterlife. In fact I believe in several. I honestly believe that in the same way that we have different gods (see ‘What makes you more right than me?'), we have different afterlives and it’s up to us where we go. So, I might see you there, or I might be in the heaven next door. Bang on the wall if we get too raucous…

What makes you more right than me?

It’s a question I’ve often been asked. Most frequently when ‘passive leafleting’ for my university Pagan Society. ‘Do you honestly believe you’re right?’
Well, duh? Yes, I honestly believe that paganism is right. Some of my friends may not realise how strongly, how passionately I believe that, mainly because I tend to keep it to myself. I’m a quiet religious-nut (and no, that’s not a contradiction in terms).
But the difference between me believing I’m right and, say, a stereotypical, fundamentalist Christian or Muslim believing that they are right, is that I don’t believe that I’m exclusively right.
Yes. That’s what I said. We can ALL be right.

How can I think this? Surprisingly easily… It helps that, as a Pagan, the idea of multiple deities is not a problem. But it also links to what deities are and what they do.
In my opinion, there is a celestial force. Something greater, wiser and more powerful than us (note that I’m not saying all-powerful, all-knowing etc – who says the gods are infallible?). We don’t know what it is. A pagan creation-myth I particularly like just calls it ‘TheOne’. I don’t know if it’s male, or female, or either. It just is.
And all deities are parts, or avatars, of TheOne.

Why do we have different religions then? Well, we have different music, we have different styles of art. We all see colour slightly differently. If we can approach these rather mundane things from completely different perspectives, why not religion? Why can’t one person feel more drawn to one belief without it being ‘better’ or ‘right’? It just feels better or more right for them. And that’s fine. Nothing wrong with that. It would also mean that all religions are a valid path to The One, as a part of the whole. All religions are incomplete, imperfect ways of understanding something that is so much bigger and greater than us – something that we can never even hope to understand, let alone really conceive of completely.

But if we accept that no human can ever fully understand that powerful thing, then who has the right, who can honestly look inside themselves and say that their way is the ONLY right way?

And if you can…. Good for you. Just don’t try and persuade me.

Landlocked Americans

To the particular person whose family does not come from coastal America, I apologise – you are, in fact, loved.
You don’t fall into the stereotypical ‘redneck’ category. Or the stereotypical ‘non-coastal’ group. Why? Because you have travelled widely, lived and studied away from the US, and you’re an engineer. :P

Besides, you’re half-British anyway.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Fried cupcakes anyone?

I don't want to give anyone the wrong idea. I'm not anti-American. I have some American friends who I love dearly. Some of them are my age, some my parents' age. Admittedly, all of them have one thing in common - they come from 'coastal' America and they've travelled the world.
The problem I have is with the stereotypical 'redneck', and having read this article, my fears seem to have been completely justified. The author, Joe Bageant, seems particularly proud of his redneck tradition/heritage/outlook.
In particular the influences on the American ethos:

  • Belief that no law is above God's law, not even the US Constitution.
  • Hyper patriotism. A fighting defence of native land, home and heart, even when it is not actually threatened: ie, Iraq, Panama, Grenada, Somalia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Haiti and dozens more with righteous operations titles such as Enduring Freedom, Restore Hope, and Just Cause.
  • A love of guns and tremendous respect for the warrior ideal. Along with this comes a strong sense of fealty and loyalty.
  • Fealty to wartime leaders, whether it be FDR or George Bush.
  • Self effacement, humility. We are usually the butt of our own jokes, in an effort not to appear aloof among one another.
  • Belief that most things outside our own community and nation are inferior and threatening, that the world is jealous of the American lifestyle.
  • Personal pride in equality. No man, however rich or powerful, is better than me.
  • Perseverance and belief in hard work. If a man or a family is poor, it is because they did not work hard enough. God rewards those who work hard enough. So does the American system.
  • The only free country in the world is the United States, and the only reason we ever go to war is to protect that freedom.

All this has become so deeply instilled as to now be reflexive. It represents many of the worst traits in American culture and a few of the best.
And that has every thinking person here in the US, except perhaps John McCain and Sarah Palin, worried.
Very worried.

BBC 'Today' website

Yes. I'm worried. Shouldn't we all be?
EDIT: I would like to point out that self effacement, humility, personal pride in equality and perseverance and belief in hard work are very noble attributes and to be applauded. The rest of them, however...

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Quote of the Day

Love to me can be hard, it can torment you and it can be the best thing in the world as well.
You can not take love for granted and you have to work at it like anything else. It is precious and not everyone finds it so when you have got it, enjoy it.

To drill or not to drill?

Well, Mrs Palin has come out with a great one:

Mrs Palin - who supports drilling for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - said that while drilling "will not solve all of America's energy problems", that is "no excuse to do nothing at all".

BBC website

Oh yes, I like that logic. It wont solve the problem, but lets throw lots of money at it and do it anyway. Surely the words 'National Wildlife Refuge' should mean something?

A little exploration/Googling comes up with the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) who have a great article on the issue, ending with:

The solution to America's energy problems will be found in American ingenuity, not more oil. Only by reducing our reliance on oil -- foreign and domestic -- and investing in cleaner, renewable forms of power will our country achieve true energy security. The good news is that we already have many of the tools we need to accomplish this. For example, Detroit has the technology right now to produce high-performance hybrid cars, trucks and SUVs. If America made the transition to these more efficient vehicles, far more oil would be saved than the Arctic Refuge is likely to produce. Doesn't that make far more sense than selling out our natural heritage and exploiting one of our true wilderness gems?

NRDC website

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Life, elephants and an A+ in creativity

The whole ‘abstinence programme’ thing has got me thinking about life. To the extent that it preevented me sleeping last night. Which in turn has made me irritable and grumpy. But that’s a whole other topic.
Anyway. Life. What is it? When does it start? What makes it special? What happens when it’s over? As you can imagine, hardly contemplations conducive to sleep.
I would like to make it clear right now that the following musings were born of insomnia and hardly scientifically based, nor are they fair and balanced, or even logical. Just thoughts, with the occasional ill-considered opinion thrown in for fun. I probably won’t tackle all of this all at once, but you never know. I might have a slow day at work!
Now, with that out of the way….

Conception or birth or somewhere in-between?
I once met someone with the most bizarre view on when life begins. Her view was that life has begun either when you realise you’re pregnant, or when/if you decide to get pregnant. Which could theoretically mean that life has begun even before you’ve had sex. Because the intention is there. Odd, but in a funny kind of way, I can see where she was coming from. It links into the idea of control by intention (or magic by intention and purpose). But does that mean that because I want to have children in 4 or 5 years time, then their lives have already started? A terrifying thought…
Personally, and I guess this is a bit of a cop-out, I think life begins at conception. However, for purposes of termination, I think that ‘sanctity of life’ begins when the baby/foetus/whatever it is could survive (relatively unaided). It‘s a tricky one for me as, having been adopted, I can think of very few situations when I’d advocate not carrying a baby to term (and then giving it up for adoption if necessary).

Accident or design?
What is life? Is it just the result of millennia of evolution? Are we plankton swimming in a universe of tepid water? Or is there someone/thing/things out there shrieking ‘woohoo! Look at what I did!’ And possibly a larger entity looking on approvingly saying ‘who’s mummy’s clever creator-god?’ Or ‘A+ in originality. Shame about the quality of the work though.’
But seriously. Is life for us simply ‘pink, supple and breathing’? Or is there something inside us that causes us to exist, to be aware, to act and react. Do we have a little spark inside, a little glow, a tiny bit of something that isn’t flesh, that doesn’t wobble when poked, or break when hit. Is there something more to life that respiration, reproduction, and other long words beginning with ‘r’ (any suggestions?!).

Which brings us nicely to what makes us special. (Yes. Slow day at work).
Personally I don’t think we’re anything special. Yes we build, we communicate, we use tools, we go to war, we’re technologically advanced (air conditioning for tanks? That’s just for starters…), we appreciate art and can create music, we conserve our history, we have a concept of time and space, we have religion and politics. And so what? Many of those things exist in nature (ie not human). Think chimpanzees, ants, bees, ravens, dolphins, birds, hummingbirds, orca whales, elephant graveyards, prides of lions…. Given that nature seems to achieve all that (with the possible exceptions of religion and deliberate art, but hey, who needs those?) without destroying half the environment in the process, are we really to be admired for those achievements?
If we aren’t special, then we have no right to ‘dominion over earth’. As ‘guardians’ of the planet, we’re doing a pretty crap job. It’s easier to jump in the car than take the bus and in reality, compared with the long distance flights people don’t hesitate to go on, what difference will a 20 minute bus ride make? Turning off the tap while you brush your teeth doesn’t change the gallons of water lost each day from leaky pipes. Turning off the lights (which I’m becoming quite obsessive about) saves nothing when compared with the office computers left on standby all night (and only wastes electricity if they’re energy saving lightbulbs. I know….)
Ok, how has this suddenly become an environmental rant? Ahem.
Anyway, I think what I’m trying to say is that we have an over-aggrandised opinion of ourselves. And we shouldn’t because we don’t deserve it.
But given that some of us in the world are aware of this, perhaps that is what makes us special. The ability to think beyond ourselves, not in terms of ‘preserve our young/pack/colony/hive’ but thinking beyond the good of the species, to the good of the future, maybe the fact that we can, and do, do this, we go some way to recovering our moral integrity.
And of course it’s always possible that the gods prefer us. After all, what’s not to love…?

Death to follow ;)

Kitty preview

One, two, three, aaaaaawwwwwww........ Just adorable!
And one of these lovely kitties will be coming home to Dorset with us on Friday.

I'm just too excited! :D

Quote of the Day

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who dont believe in magic will never find it.
Roald Dahl The Minpins

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Ill-advised comments or 'No still means No'

Another rant. Dame Helen Mirren has suggested that not all rapes can and should be reported to the police or rapists taken to court. What kind of support does this give to women (and men) who have been victims of rape? I’m very disappointed that such a well-thought-of celebrity considers such public statements to be appropriate.

Blind faith?

Is it just me or is the policy of ‘abstinence programmes’ rather than safe-sex education misguided, blinkered, narrow -minded and downright stupid?

‘in 2005, presidential candidate John McCain, who picked Mrs Palin as his running mate, opposed a Senate Democratic proposal that would have spent tens of millions of dollars to pay for pregnancy prevention programmes other than abstinence-only education, including education on emergency contraception such as the morning-after pill, AP reports.’

BBC website

To me, this is a basic failing of adults and people in power to put the wellbeing of the young ahead of petty political and religious agendas. It shows a blind faith in outdated, unrealistic views (that hormone-charged, young people will happily wait until they’re married if you tell them that God will love them more) which are completely out of place in the modern world.

In short – grrrr.