Friday, December 21, 2007

Satan in the Supermarket

"Better to shop in Hell, than serve in Heav'n."

I’m not sure you will catch sight of Satan wandering the aisles of Tesco, however, pushing a shopping trolley, forked tail draped loosely over one arm, while he picks out bottles of Christmas sherry from the shelves, two for the price of one.

You will, however, find Mammon there.

Jacques Auguste Simon Collin de Plancy in his Dictionnaire Infernal (1818) describes Mammon as “Hell’s Ambassador to England.” And you might add that Christmas is his time of year.
Read more here.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Matalan Family

There’s nothing more irritating than to have some jolly pop-tune tinkling through your head when you’re feeling anything but jolly yourself.

That’s the trouble with Christmas: relentless jollity.

Right now the tune is “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” as featured in the Marks and Sparks advert on the telly, with Twiggy and a bunch of younger models gallivanting about in a pastiche of some 1950s Hollywood romantic comedy.

No it’s not. It’s the Most Annoying Time of the Year.

It’s particularly annoying when you have the same tune being played over and over again to remind you that you STILL haven’t got round to buying your presents yet.

I’ve been scouring the papers for bargains. Here’s one. Why not try a box of Opulence chocolates from Harrods? At £100 for 80 chocolates it would make an ideal present for that favourite aunt to enjoy after her lunch on Christmas day.

£100 for 80 chocolates works out at £1.25 a chocolate, so maybe it would be advisable to restrain the aunt from actually eating the chocolates. Maybe she could be encouraged to just take the occasional lick instead.

This also has the advantage that it can be turned into a parlour game for the rest of the family. Simply gather around and estimate the value of each lick.

This is cheap compared to a Tercenturian Hamper from Fortnum and Mason (pictured). A snip at £20,000. I suspect the only reason for buying this is to show off how rich you are.

Or how about a dinner suit from Matalan, costing £40?

This is a case of the sublime to the ridiculous, of course. For the price of one box of chocolates from Harrods you can get two dinner suits from Matalan, plus a spare trouser leg and zipper.

What a bargain. We were all round my Mum’s house when I read out the advert. I said, “come on: £40 for a dinner suit, it’s got to be crap,” and my sister said, “that’s how much it would cost to hire one, so you could buy a new one and just wear it one night.”

Meanwhile my other sister, mishearing, said, “some people wouldn’t mind laying out forty quid so that it matches the rest of the table.”

Pardon? So they make dinner suits in co-ordinating colours to match your table cloth and napkins now? How modern.

She thought we’d been talking about a £40 dinner service.

My whole family are great fans of Matalan whose original shop was situated in Tamworth in the Midlands, not more than forty miles from where we were brought up.

It’s where they are today, the whole lot of them, in the brand new Matalan store in the East Kent Retail Park near Broadstairs where they are doing all of their Christmas shopping for the next twenty years I suspect.

I do hope they buy me a dinner suit. I want a red one to go with my Father Christmas bow-tie and matching earmuffs.

I intend to look sophisticated at the dinner table this year.

Friday, November 23, 2007


I went down to the remembrance service at the war memorial with my dad.

I’d bought my poppy a few days before from a lady poppy-seller outside the supermarket. She said, "I know your face. You write that column in the newspaper. Sometimes it makes me so angry I want to shout."

"Good," I thought. "Then I am doing my job."

I don’t normally go to the remembrance service. This is not because I don’t honour the sacrifices made by our service men and women in times of war. I am not a pacifist. I believe there are times when we have to fight to defend our values. It’s just that, as Will Self said that morning on the Andrew Marr programme, I don’t want to be party to a state-sponsored cult.

There are wars and there are wars. Some wars are just and some wars are not. The Second World War was a just war, being a struggle against fascism. We were on the right side.

Other wars are not so clear cut. Whose values, exactly, are we fighting to defend? In the case of the war in Iraq, more than a million Iraqis have died, and several thousand coalition troops, to defend the right of big American oil companies to steal the resources of that desperate, wounded nation.

In the case of the war in Iraq, in other words, we are on the wrong side.

The reason I went to the remembrance service this time was because my dad asked me to. This seemed like a great honour to me, to be able to stand next to my dad as the flags were lowered and he remembered his comrades.

It was a dull grey day but the sun came out right on cue just as the Last Post was sounding.

After the service we went to the British Legion for a drink, where I introduced him to Councillor Julia Seath. They began talking, and within a few minutes discovered that they had something in common. They had both been in Singapore, Julia as the daughter of a British Army officer, and my dad as a young rating in the British Navy.

They were chatting away happily about their memories of Singapore, recalling certain places, certain streets and certain landmarks, when their conversation suddenly became intense. They realised that they must have sailed over on the same ship. They were both on the same ship at the same time.

It was 1949 and the ship was the SS Orduna.

Julia said she remembered the seed cake they ate and that they used a special kind of soap to lather with as they had to wash in sea water.

This meeting wouldn’t have been possible without me. I’ve known Julia since I first came to this town and got involved with local politics.

It felt like a privilege to have been a witness to such a conversation.

Some things seem much more than just coincidence and I was glad I had accepted my father’s invitation.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Free Horoscope Reading

I had my horoscope done over the internet the other week. The advert said: "Free Horoscope Readings". I filled in a form with all my details - my time and date and place of birth - and sent it off.

Some days later I got my reply. It came in the form of an e-mail which had a web link attached, with a security number. You logged on to the website, pasted in the security number, and got your "Free Personal Horoscope Reading."

"Dear Christopher," it said.

It was a very long text, mainly in blue, emblazoned with multiple capital letters, and with lots of words emphasised in bold contrasting colours.

"The other day," it continued, "when I was working on your Free Personal Horoscope Reading" – in bright red – "I had a SUDDEN BLINDING REVELATION about you."

"Oh dear," I thought, wondering what was coming next. Anyone who has to use capital letters and bright colours in such abundance is obviously on the make. It’s like they are shouting at you on the page, like someone suddenly leaping across a room and bellowing in your ear.

It said that there was going to be a very lucky turn of events in which I would become seriously, seriously rich and that all my dreams would come true. "This is an ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY," it said.

At some point the text said that it was IMPERITIVE that I continue reading to the end of the page.

Well you know me. I wasn’t believing a word of this. This wasn’t a horoscope reading, it was an advert. I was just waiting for the sting at the end. How much would I be expected to fork out for whatever service it was they were offering?

There were lots of free things on offer as part of the deal, like an ancient Egyptian Talisman, and a "Magnetised Photograph". This latter consisted of a photograph of the woman supposedly giving me all this personal attention, which she would specially "magnetise" for me so that when I rubbed it I would be in direct "psychic" contact with her.

I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of being in direct psychic contact with anyone with a tendency to shout at you in clashing colours and capital letters. It was bad enough on the page. Imagine if it was in your head.

After this the text started to turn nasty.

It was going on and on about psychic-this and spiritual-that, promising me all sorts of wonderful things, when it suddenly said that I had a choice in all of this and that it was imperative that I made the right choice.

"I know you have been unhappy in your life," the text went on. "I know you have been lonely and frustrated. I know you have been hurt."

It then promised me that if I made the wrong choices my life would simply get worse.

I saw the psychology of that. Everyone has been unhappy at some time in their life. Everyone has been lonely and frustrated and hurt. My "personal letter" was clearly a mass produced effort with my name added by the mysteries of digital technology, but the psychology of it was to touch elements in my life that we all share.

Fear and loss and loneliness, hope for a better future, love – of course – and dreams of wealth and avarice, who hasn’t dreamed about these things or feared them?

The text was now adding a threat to its previous benign inanity. It was saying that my life could get worse. Indeed, it promised that it would unless I took a certain course of action.

This is where the sting came in.

She was even now working on my personal horoscope which would give me precise details on how to cash in on the great luck that was about to descend upon me, while telling me how to avoid all the pitfalls. She didn’t want to be so crass as to talk about money, she said, but in the light of the GREAT WEALTH that was even now gathering itself to pour down upon my head…. Etc. etc. etc.

You can guess the rest.

There was a Pay Pal link though which I could give my credit card details. After that I stopped bothering to read.

We’ve all see letters like this of course, and I couldn’t really complain, having elicited it in the first place by answering an advert on a website. But it struck me that it was tantamount to extortion by threats and there are certainly some vulnerable people out there who could be taken in and possibly damaged by this sort of thing.

Maybe I should sue for damages? That way I could get that fortune my horoscope promised me.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Parallel Worlds

Imagine. Somewhere in a galaxy far, far away (as they say in the movies) there’s another you. This "other" you shares everything that you have. She has your past, your history, your family, your name, your body, your sense of identity, your dress-sense, your possessions, your sense of humour. She is identical to you in every way. She likes what you like. She not only thinks she is you, in a very real sense she is you.

She is sitting in exactly the same place as you are now, reading this blog, just as you are. She is wearing the same clothes. What’s the weather like outside? Well in her world the weather is exactly the same. If it’s sunny in your world, it’s sunny in hers. If it’s raining in your world, then it is raining in hers.

But at this point, maybe, things begin to change. You carry on reading this blog, intrigued, whereas the other you interrupts her reading after the first sentence and decides to go for a walk instead. Outside she meets someone she hasn’t seen in ages, who asks her out for a drink. A romance ensues. Later they marry and have children. The two worlds are beginning to diverge.

Small changes lead to greater and greater effects. So in your world you marry a completely different person, and have different children and sometime in the future, one of your children is responsible for a great breakthrough in medicine which saves large numbers of people from a major epidemic.

A war for resources that might have happened did not happen. People live who might not have lived. Some of these people are responsible for huge changes in how we go about our daily lives. And on and on like this, until the two worlds are utterly different from each other.

It is the "parallel worlds" scenario beloved of science fiction writers. You imagine a world quite like our own, but weirdly different in significant ways. So, for instance, in one episode of Doctor Who the protagonists believe themselves to be in London, only when they look up there are Zeppelins in the sky and the world is being ruled by a malevolent dictatorship. They realise they are in a parallel universe.

You think this is all just the stuff of fantasy? You are wrong. It is legitimate scientific theory. It is not only likely to be true, in all probability it is true.

The theory goes something like this: if space is infinite and matter is distributed evenly throughout then every possible scenario must be taking place in one part of the universe or another. So there’s not just one "you", there’s an infinite number of you, all diverging from the pattern at varying points along the way.

It’s like that trick you do with mirrors, reflecting a mirror in a mirror, till you get an infinite regression of mirrors disappearing off into the distance. An infinite number of Earths, going around infinite suns in solar systems exactly like ours. Infinite versions of the internet, with an infinite number of blogs by CJ Stone, all varying in an infinite number of ways.

Well I know it sounds far-fetched, but, according to the physicist Max Tegmark, in his theory of Parallel Universes it is the simplest possible explanation for how the universe actually works. Unless we imagine that the universe stops at some point and turns into something else - a kind of cosmic terminus-building with a big sign saying "Please Mind The Gap When Disembarking From The Universe"- then the best assumption is that it goes on forever; and if it goes on forever, then every possible story-line you can imagine is happening in some part of the universe or another.

As for that other you: she might have gone out for a drink tonight, but she missed reading a very interesting article instead.

And who knows how this might change the world?

Sunday, October 28, 2007


It's that time of year again folks: the world-famous festival of fake blood and tackiness known as Halloween.

In my local pound shop, called George’s Mini-Market, you can buy vampire teeth, horror masks, wigs, face paint, skeleton costumes, glow-in-the-dark fingers and vampire's blood from anywhere between 10p to £2.

You can buy all the same things everywhere else too. The windows of all the shops are full up of the stuff.

Meanwhile in one of the posh craft shops in our town they have a proper witch's broomstick in the window, obviously hand made. They also have a witch's hat. My sister went in and asked how much the hat cost and they laughed. They got it from Woolworths, they said.

When I was on holiday in Romania last year I went to Bran castle in Transylvania, which is popularly known as "Dracula's Castle". They were selling all the same tat there too.

It's an international conspiracy. Why go to Transylvania when you can buy your Dracula gear from George’s Mini-Market?

Actually the only connection between Bran Castle and Dracula is the fact that the movie Bram Stoker's Dracula was filmed there.

The real historical Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, may have spent a night there once. "Dracula" was one of his titles. It means "Son of the Dragon".

Bram Stoker based his own Dracula's Castle upon one in Scotland which he also visited only once.

So Bram Stoker and Vlad the Impaler have one thing in common. They both only ever went to Dracula's Castle once.

A few years back Christians used to get very upset about Halloween. They would send scary letters to the newspapers accusing anyone taking part of "occult practices".

Fortunately this kind of superstitious scare-mongering seems to have died out in more recent times. Or maybe it’s that Christians don't want to be accused of being spoilsports any more, when secretly they still disapprove.

The first time I was ever published was in my local paper in a letter sent in reply to one of these letters, which I signed "Puck". It filled up almost half a page and the editor added a disclaimer to it. "The views expressed in this letter are not necessarily those of this newspaper."
I was going through a pagan phase at the time.

In pagan circles Halloween is called Samhain, and is the Celtic New Year. It is a very ancient festival indeed, and involves a meal in which an extra place is laid out for the visiting dead.

It had mainly died out in England due to its replacement by Bonfire Night, but was revived recently as an American import after the popularity of Steven Spielberg's ET, which used Halloween night as a convenient plot-device.

These days the ET costume has become a part of the Halloween tradition. If ET was around now he wouldn't have to wear a sheet over his head. He could come as himself.

Sainsburys, meanwhile, is refusing to sell flour or eggs to under 16 year olds. Apparently this is to do with the practice of egging people's houses as part of Trick or Treat.

A friend of mine has the following notice on his door:

No Trick Or Treat

X-Ray Lasers
On Roof.

It seems to work. Or so he claims.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Whitstable Harbour

From The Whitstable Times 27/09/2007:

I’m from Birmingham originally. Not a DFL, a DFB. Down From Birmingham.

When I was a youngster we used to go out to a piece of woodland just outside the city called Chelmsley Wood. Later the area was developed and a large council estate put there (1).

At one point it was the largest council estate in Britain.

It looks like Lucerne Drive (2) but is almost as big as Canterbury, if you can imagine that. Lucerne Drive with Elephantitus.

It was designed and built in the 60s.

It has a town centre with shops and car parks, and a number of pubs. The pubs, of course, have no soul, being all the same, without history or atmosphere, and just being kind of plonked down anywhere as an afterthought.

As the years went by the pubs became increasingly decrepit and nasty. You wouldn’t want to go into a Chelmsley Wood pub without an armed guard. I think that Baghdad is probably safer than a Chelmsley Wood pub on a Saturday night.

The reason I am telling you all of this is that I’m looking at a drawing of a Chelmsley Wood pub right now on the internet. It’s called The Oyster Catcher and is Shepherd Neame’s proposed development plan for Whitstable Harbour (above).

OK, I’m probably exaggerating here. I’m sure that The Oyster Catcher will be sensitively designed and built to take into account the ambience of its surroundings. That is, like every new building in Whitstable these last few years, it will be slapped all over with Kent weatherboarding.

But the question still remains: who on earth thinks that Whitstable is in need of another pub? Whitstable has some of the best pubs in the world. Pubs with real character and real atmosphere, not crude mock-ups plastered with weatherboarding to give them that “authentic” Kent look.

I didn’t manage to get to see the development proposals for Whitstable Harbour when they were on display in the Horsebridge. Fortunately they are still available on the Canterbury City Council website.

So I’m looking at the various options now. Shepherd Neame’s attempt to recapture the spirit of a 60s council estate in the shape of a pub is actually the least objectionable of the proposals.

One of them looks like a spaceship, and another one looks like a circus (3).

I like these architectural drawings. They are exercises in creative fantasy. The design that looks like a spaceship also looks like it about to take off into the wild tumultuous skies.

However I’m puzzled as to why the council thinks the harbour needs developing. I don’t know about you, but I actually like the buildings that are already there.

Crude but functional, you might say, and entirely appropriate for the environment, this being a working harbour. Perhaps a larger version of the very successful market would be more in keeping?

That’s what attracted me to Whitstable in the first place. It is a real living town, not a theme-park parody of itself like Canterbury.

Let’s keep it that way!


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Scary Times

My aunt sent me a set of photos over the internet. They purported to show a little girl being punished for stealing in Iran. The photographs showed the little girl with her arm being forcibly held out while a car was running over it in order to break it.

The pictures were accompanied by some virulent anti-Iranian text.

I say “purported to show” and you already know what my attitude to these photographs is likely to be.

They may have been faked. They could have been mocked-up in Photoshop, or the result of a staged enactment.

Even assuming they were showing something real, there is nothing in the photographs to indicate where they may have been taken. It could have been Iran. It could have been Turkey. It could have been any one of a dozen different countries in the region.

For those of you sceptical of my scepticism, I would just like to remind you of the lies that got us into Iraq, and that German soldiers in the First World War were accused of bayoneting babies.

I think we all know by now that we are being set-up for a new war, this time against Iran.

If you think the war in Iraq was a disaster, just you wait. A war against Iran would be apocalyptic to say the least.

Unlike Iraq - which was a country already on its knees from years of sanctions, continual bombings and the bloody after-effects of the previous devastating war – Iran is a fully-functioning advanced radical state with a motivated and armed population. It would not be such a push-over.

Iran has always been the real enemy, having dumped the American-backed Shah in their Islamic revolution, and having backed some of the key anti-American/ anti-Israeli forces in the region, like Hamas and Hezbollah, for a number of years.

It is also almost certainly backing some of the Sh’ia based militias in Iraq, something that will no doubt provide the justification for any future attack. But - it has to be said - complaints about “interference” from an occupying power about a regional neighbour is patently absurd. It would be like Nazi Germany complaining about “interference” by Britain in the affairs of Vichy France during the Second World War.

The Americans have already built a small army base on the Iranian border, supposedly to stop incursions into Iraqi territory. This is a joke. You only have to look at the map to know this.

There are 200 American troops in that base. The idea that they can have any effect on cross-border incursions in a desert region along such an extensive border is laughable.

More likely they have been put there as an act of provocation.

There are also British troops on the southern border, so expect to see a re-enactment of the capture of British sailors earlier this year.

British troops are being used as bait in a nasty propaganda war, which will, almost certainly, turn into a real war in the end.

Scary times ahead.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Round and Round

One of my favourite books is The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin by PD Ouspensky. The central character is a failure who finds himself at a dead end in his life. Broke, bereft, emotionally and academically ruined, rejected by the woman he loves and contemplating suicide, he wishes he could live his life over again, but with hindsight this time, knowing everything that he knows now.

Then he meets a magician who offers him that chance. But first the magician gives him a warning. “Remember this moment,” he says.

After this the hero is catapulted back in time, to the exact moment when he believes he had made his first great mistake, and in his confusion, finding himself a fully developed older man in a child’s body, proceeds to make exactly the same mistake again.

Thereafter the book is a catalogue of continuing errors, in which the character does everything he did in his first life while slowly forgetting that he had ever made this return journey. In order to fit in, he reverts to his younger self, becoming, once more, a child in a child’s body. But he is plagued by a sense of repetition, of deja-vu, as if he has been here before.

There’s a terrible inevitability about the story, like the wheels of fate moving inexorably on, and a sense of echoes-in-time. There is also something unsettlingly familiar about tone of the story - a kind of resonance - as if you yourself know some of this already: as if you, the reader, also exists in a time-loop, as if you’ve been going round and round in time throughout all eternity. It’s just that you keep forgetting, that’s all.

Which is - maybe - not so far from the truth.

I had a weird little revelation the other day. I was thinking about reincarnation. I suddenly thought, “what if time is not sequential”: by which I meant that maybe time is like that loop in the PD Ouspensky story, or like the ever-repeating cycle of events in Groundhog Day. Not a straight line but a circle, going round and round and round.

I which case, I thought, when we die we don’t necessarily go on to the “next” life as such, but we can go back to any of our lives at any time in history. Each life is the same life, but with a different historical backdrop. This was my revelation. We have to keep on coming back and back until we get it right.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. Maybe each time we come back we set ourselves a new riddle. That is how we develop. It’s not that there is some outside force judging us. We judge ourselves. One part of us is eternal - consisting of the whole of our experience throughout time - while the other part, the familiar little bit that we consider ourselves to be, that lives out our small dramas on this planet, is on an endless journey to find our selves.

There’s a great line in William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. “Eternity is in Love with the Productions of Time.”

It’s a bit like a soap opera. If you already knew the outcome of the story then it wouldn’t be worth watching.

So it’s like the eternal “you” sets itself a puzzle - a plot-device, an interesting conundrum - which the mortal “you” then has to find the solution to, and that you have to keep on coming back and back till you’ve sorted it out. Then it’s on to the next sequence.

In the Ouspensky story the hero finds himself right back where he started, in exactly the same mess. Only this time he remembers that he has been here before. It is at this moment that he is able to move on. It is at this moment that he is finally free.

Anthony Peake links:

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Time Reversal and Reincarnation

One of the things I most love are scientific papers which appear to prove the existence of supernatural powers.

One I read recently was called "Time-reversed human experience: Experimental evidence and implications" by Dean Radin of the Boundary Institute, Los Altos, California. It’s about precognition.

There are a number of experiments in there which make fascinating reading. My favourite is an experiment into so-called “presentiment”, that is precognition of a future feeling.

The experiment went like this. A computer generates random images. Some of these images are of a violent, sexual or emotionally charged nature. The participants in the experiment are wired up in such a way that the experimenters can tell when the person is affected by the pictures. Violent or sexually charged pictures cause a severe reaction in the measure of the so-called “autonomic nervous system”.

The non-charged pictures include pastoral scenes and pictures of household objects and cause no reaction.

The participants press a button, and after a six second delay the picture flashes up on the screen and remains there for another three seconds.

So this is the thing. During that six second delay, if the picture that is going to be flashed up is one that will cause a reaction, a higher than average percentage of the participants show a reaction in anticipation, before the picture comes on their screen.

In other words, this shows that people often know what’s coming before it comes. We quite naturally, as a matter of course it seems, can see into the future.

I love that. I love it when hard empirical evidence shows us that the universe is far more mysterious and strange than the one suggested by the theologians of materialist science who currently preside over the scientific establishment.

I read about the work of another scientist recently who has been looking into evidence of reincarnation. The scientist was Ian Stevenson, M.D. Professor of Research Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia, who died in February this year.

Unfortunately, unlike the precognition experiment above, reincarnation cannot be tested in the laboratory. Dr. Stevenson was more of a detective than a normal scientist.

He would hear of a case where a young child - typically between the ages of two and seven - claimed to have had a previous life. After that he would interview the child, and then attempt to verify the child’s story.

Sometimes some of the children told remarkable tales about people and events which they couldn’t have got by any other means than by reincarnation.

His most famous book is Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, published in 1966.

In a typical case, a boy in Beirut claimed that he had been a mechanic in his previous life who had died in a car accident. Witnesses say the boy provided the name of the driver, the location of the crash, the names of the mechanic's sisters and parents, cousins and friends, all of which turned out to match the life of a man who had died some years before.

Of course, none of this constitutes proof, and Dr Stevenson was too cautious to claim that his investigations were any more than “suggestive” of reincarnation.

On the other hand, almost nothing in science is based upon absolute proof. For instance, there is no “proof” that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer. There is, however, overwhelming statistical evidence that it does.

As to what conclusions you might draw from his work, Dr. Stevenson has his own views on the subject.

"I think a rational person, if he wants, can believe in reincarnation on the basis of evidence."

But there are a couple of questions which follow on from this: if it is true that we are indeed reincarnated beings why do we generally forget about it; and why it is that Dr. Stevenson’s cases were all young children? Aren’t older people capable of remembering their past lives?

I’m not sure what the answer to this might be.

Perhaps we are more psychically in tune when we are younger, and that’s why some children but not many adults can remember their previous lives.

As to why we forget: I think that’s obvious.

Forgetfulness might be a survival technique. After all, who wants to remember their own death?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Mandate of Heaven

My favourite book is the Book of Changes, the I-Ching.

Perhaps you have heard of it. It is one of the oldest books ever written. It is also unlike any other book on the planet.

Further links:

Yi Jing, Book of Sun and Moon
Calling Crane In The Shade
The Great Vessel
I-Ching on the net

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Blessed By Luck

It was my birthday. I was at the Shobab restaurant in Whitstable with my family: my Mum, my Dad, my two sisters and my brother-in-law, plus my niece Beatrix, who was two and a half years old at the time, and is one of the brightest little creatures on this planet.


I’ve been having this debate with a friend of mine about the meaning of the word “facetious”.

To me it means jocularity at an inappropriate moment: trying to be funny when the conversation calls for something else. A facetious person is someone who thinks that they are funny, when they are not.

My friend says no: it simply means jocularity or humour. A facetious person, according to him, is a joking person, someone who is always making bantering remarks.

Actually, both definitions are true. In its original meaning, in French, facetiousness is simply wittiness or jocularity: a form of bantering humour. The fact that it has also come to mean something more negative is a consequence of the complexity of our language, a combination of Old German and Old French with a bit of Viking thrown in.

Once you have several words with the same meaning, each variation will tend to acquire more and more nuanced interpretations. Hence “facetious”. Originally just humour. Now humour at an inappropriate moment.

The point about language is that meaning is fluid, not fixed. Meaning is something that shifts over time. As I said to my friend, what does “fabulous” mean? What does “fantastic” mean? Both are words which have changed their meaning.

Or what about “gay”? This is a word which has changed it’s meaning not just once, but twice now.

It is also a measure of how people are constantly subverting “official” language.

To anyone born before the fifties, of course, it will have a range of associations around the ideas of brightness and happiness. Garlands of flowers are gay. People are gay when they dance and have fun. The blossom in early spring is gay.

In my younger days it became purloined by the rising Gay Liberation movement to mean homosexual, its current “official” definition. It is now the first definition in the dictionary. It was a radical move. By forcing the rest of us to redefine our terms it also asked us to think again about our own personal prejudices and, perhaps, to adjust them a little.

Most people these days, I imagine, are happy that the old stereotypes about homosexuality are gone and that people are free to choose their own path, as long as it doesn’t impinge upon others.

What people get up to in the bedroom is their own private business.

However, the irony is that the word has moved on again, with hardly anyone noticing. These days, amongst the young, “gay” tends to mean something like “fey” or “naff”: something slightly over-the-top and ridiculous, superficial or pretentious.

Elton John is gay in all senses of the word.

So “gay” has acquired an additional meaning as an implied insult, despite the language mafia’s attempt to control our use of words.

As for “facetious”: the reason my friend and I started this conversation is that I accused him of being facetious. I have since adjusted my description, calling his humour “tangentially facetious” instead.

He takes that as a compliment. At least I never called him gay.

The Camera Never Lies

“The camera never lies,” they say. Well it does, and it does so with increasing frequency on your TV news these days.

There were a number of occasions when this became particularly clear to me. One was an image of a reporter on the front-line in Afghanistan during the invasion in 2002. He was ducked behind a line of troops in a trench. But there was something wrong with the set-up; the “troops” were Afghan – supposedly members of the Northern Alliance - but their uniforms were brand new.

Since when have you seen Afghan fighters wearing uniforms even, let along brand new ones?

It was so obviously a fake. It was clear from the looks on their faces and the general air of dishevelment and lack of discipline that these weren’t troops at all, but just a bunch of guys off the street dressed up to look like troops, straight from the prop department of the Pentagon.

I wish I had that bit of film to show to you. It was hilarious. There was the reporter with his serious face reeling out all this portentous nonsense, with his flak jacket and his helmet, clutching his microphone, making out that the Taliban were just over the other side, while behind him a bunch of scruffy Afghan peasants were lying in a ditch pretending to be troops, picking their noses and having a laugh.

Another was a shot of the “rebel” army in Haiti in 2004. They were overthrowing President Aristide, the democratically elected leader at the time.

But while the news reports were all making out that this was an internal matter – rebels vs government - it was so obvious from the look of them that this was no ordinary rebel army.

They were too well dressed and too well fed. They were toned and muscled, with tight tee-shirts showing off their abs, with back-to-front baseball caps, clutching the latest in US-made high tech weaponry.

They were so obviously Western-trained mercenaries in the pay of the US government, a point made clear when Aristide was later escorted from the country at gunpoint by the CIA.

This at a time when we were supposed to be promoting world-democracy.

The most famous example however is the one where they pulled down Saddam’s statue in Baghdad.

It looked like a large crowd of ordinary Iraqis celebrating the end of the dictatorship. If you remember they made a great to-do about explaining the insult of people banging the statue’s face with a shoe. But any perspective would have told a different story.

The “crowd” consisted of 150 selected individuals, while the square itself was nearly empty. The shot was a set-up, as later independent photographs (above) made clear. Notice the presence of American tanks guarding the square and ask youself why this shot or one from a similar perspective was never shown on your National TV News.

So you have to beware. Nothing is quite what it seems. Most of the real news is being hidden from us, while, in it’s place, we have fakery and deception, smoke and mirrors, sleight of hand.

You have to watch the news very carefully these days; not to find out the truth: to find out the lies.

Friday, August 17, 2007

You Make Your Own Reality

"Many people do not need to listen to my voice because they listen to the voices of the oak trees and the birds, and to the voices of their own being. I am a poor imitation of the voices of your own psyches to which you do not listen. I will be unneeded, and gladly so, when you realize that the vitality and reinforcement and joy are your own, and rise from the fountain of your own beings; when you realize that you do not need me for protection, for there is nothing you need protect yourself against....

"You were born into a state of grace. It is impossible for you to leave it. You will die in a state of grace whether or not special words are spoken for you, or water or oil is poured upon your head. You share this blessing with the animals and all other living things. You cannot fall out of grace, nor can it be taken from you. You can ignore it. You can hold beliefs that blind you to its existence. You will still be graced but unable to perceive your own uniqueness and integrity, and blind also to other attributes with which you are automatically gifted....

"Now, each of you is a part of
All That Is, highly individual and unique, like no other; and that like no-other-ness will never be taken from you. You will not melt into some great golden bliss in which your characteristics will disappear. You will not be gobbled by a super-god. On the other hand, you will continue to exist; you will continue to be responsible for the way in which you use energy; you will expand in ways now impossible for you to understand. You will learn to command energy of which you now do not know. You will realize that you are more than you realize you are now, but you will not lose the state of which you are now aware." Seth.

I’ve been reading the Seth material on the internet.

Seth, in case you’ve not heard of him before, is a disembodied being of indeterminate origin (is he a god, or a ghost or an angel?) who was “channelled” by the poetess Jane Roberts between 1963 and 1984, and whose regular sessions were recorded and then transcribed by her husband Robert Butts to make up a very large body of material: over twenty books altogether, along with video recordings and tapes.

I must admit there’s a strange kind of comfort in receiving the disembodied communications of an inter-dimensional being over the internet late at night. That’s what communicating on the internet feels like most of the time anyway - like communicating with disembodied beings - the difference being that Seth, according to his own testimony, never had a body in the first place.

When I first read the material I was annoyed. Seth struck me as a pompous know-it-all. Unfortunately he is almost impossible to argue with. I mean, who are you arguing with exactly? He’s from another dimension of reality. He may be a know-it-all, but he‘s an extra-dimensional know-it-all. How can you argue with someone who hasn’t ever been stuck in a traffic jam?

His fundamental philosophy is that you make your own reality.

Seth: "You create your reality according to your beliefs and expectations, therefore you should examine these carefully. If you do not like some aspect of your world, then examine your own expectations."

That makes a certain amount of sense. You can wake up in the morning full of exuberance ready to take action and to enjoy your life upon this earth. Or you can wake up depressed, woeful, pessimistic and with low expectations, merely hoping to survive another day.

You can see your problems as challenges to be overcome, or you can see them as annoying obstacles getting in your way.

The approach you take to your life is obviously a part of your reality.

But Seth goes much further than this.

You make your own reality, including your physical reality. The very fabric of the universe is made up of your beliefs and expectations. There is no such thing as an accident. Nothing happens in your universe without your consent, and this applies equally to everyone.

So - say - I have an attack of piles. Do I make my own piles? According to Seth I do. I make my own reality, therefore I make my own piles. Everything in the universe has meaning. The problem then is trying to work out what, exactly, the meaning of piles might be.

You could go mad thinking like this.

Or again, more seriously: do the people of Africa make their own reality? Do they make their own poverty? Do they make their own hunger?

Isn’t there some sense in which in large parts of the world one set of people are having other people’s realities imposed upon them?

The trouble with this view is that while it makes a certain amount of sense to take responsibility for your own life, the same philosophy when applied to other people can also lead to an annoying form of self-satisfaction.

So you make your own reality. So if you are well-off, comfortable, with a nice home and a nice income, then it must be because you deserve it.

And by the same token, if you are starving, in a war zone, without shelter or clean water or clothes upon your back, then you deserve this too. It’s obviously due to some fault in your belief-system.

Personally - disembodied being or not - I simply will not accept this.

My solution is as follows. When it comes to aspects of my own life I accept that I have responsibility and hope to do my best to make the best of it. When it comes to another person’s life, however, no one has any right to judge.

It’s as simple as that.

Tread Softly Because You Tread on my Dreams

Nothing happens unless first we dream.” Carl Sandburg.

My son is named Joseph.

The day after he was born I came to the hospital to see him and his mum. He was fast asleep and dreaming. There he was, this little frail pink body in a cot, his eyes rolling around in his sockets as if there was a war going on in his head. Maybe there was a war going on, who knows?

It was clearly something stupendous.

His tiny hands were clenching and unclenching as if he was climbing a ladder to the stars.

At the time I was reading a book by Laurens van der Post which referred to the biblical figure of Joseph, the perennial dreamer whose dreams came true. I knew immediately that this was my son’s name.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

War For Oil

"Beware the leader who bangs the drum of war, in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervour, for patriotism is indeed a double edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind. And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch, and the blood boils with hate, and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need of seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader, and gladly so. How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Caesar."
Julius Caesar

Have you noticed that members of the insurgency in Iraq are now almost universally referred to as “al-Qaeda” on your evening news? Also, almost any act of terrorism anywhere in the world is generally attributed to al-Qaeda, as in the following quote by Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister.

Mr Brown told Andrew Marr on BBC One's Sunday AM it was "clear that we are dealing, in general terms, with people who are associated with al-Qaeda".

This is ironical for several reasons.

Firstly because al-Qaeda were never in Iraq before the 2003 invasion. Secondly, because the insurgency there also contains large numbers of groups who are, and always were, opposed to al-Qaeda.

(In fact, the US administration can’t have it both ways: either the Iraq insurgency is being run by al-Qaeda, or it is being secretly funded by Iran - one or the other - because the regime in Iran and the leadership of al-Qaeda have always been enemies.)

Thirdly because al-Qaeda were a virtually moribund organisation before the so-called “war-on-terror” gave them all the justification they needed to continue their barbarous campaign of murder.

Fourthly because most of the time it’s simply not true. Al-Qaeda as we perceive them are as much a creation of the United States government and the media as they ever were of Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahri. Al-Qaeda needs an enemy, and so does the United States. It’s like a marriage of convenience, each giving the other justification for its actions.

Finally, and most ironical of all, as we heard in the recent National Intelligence Estimate, al-Qaeda are now better positioned to strike the West than it has been since September 11th 2001.

Al-Qaeda is “operationally stronger than a year ago" and has "regrouped to an extent not seen since 2001," we were told. "They are showing greater and greater ability to plan attacks in Europe and the United States…."

In other words, despite over six years of bombings and tactics designed to dismantle it; despite the war on terror and the attacks on our civil liberties; despite Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay; despite extraordinary rendition and the torture that goes with it; despite 655,000 dead* (most of them Muslims) in Iraq alone; despite all of this, al-Qaeda are stronger than ever.

Kind of makes you wonder what the last six years have been about doesn’t it?

We need to get a little perspective. On the same day the botched attack occurred in Glasgow - in which no one died - more than 100 Afghan civilians were killed in a three-hour bombing raid on a village in Helmund province. Real and effective bombs as opposed to improvised and useless ones.

No one knows how many people died in Iraq on that day. Or to put it another way: in order to protect us from a conspiracy that doesn’t exist, we kill civilians in other countries, thus creating more bloodshed and more mayhem, and more resentment leading, almost certainly, to more attacks.

This is not a war on terrorism, it is a war on decency and human values.

It’s all part of the game. You create chaos so no one knows what’s going on, and under cover of that you are free to pursue whatever agenda you choose.

In the case of Iraq, the agenda is oil. It always was.

Even now there is a bill before the Iraqi parliament, being forced through by the American government, which will effectively privatise Iraqi oil.

The joke here is – and I’ve just heard George Bush say it at his press conference – that the supposed aim of the bill is to “redistribute oil wealth”.

Yes, you heard it. You redistribute oil wealth by giving control of it to private companies. It’s a new interpretation of that old concept, redistribution of wealth: from the Iraqi people to the American oil companies.

So now you know.

Free enterprise: it really works.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Letter To A Christian

God created man and man created God. So is it in the world. Men make gods and they worship their creations. If would be fitting for the gods to worship men. (Gospel of Philip)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Al-Qaeda's New Tactics

Tom Lehrer, that great American composer and humorist once wrote, "political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize".

Tom Lehrer had no idea how far this would go. Political satire has now turned into international diplomacy. Tony Blair has landed the job as the Middle East Peace Envoy. Is this someone’s idea of a joke? George Galloway, of the anti-war Respect Party, said: "It's rather like appointing Count Dracula as the head of the Blood Transfusion Service." Which is as good a punch-line as any I suppose.

Of course, coming in the wake of last week’s terror-attack in Glasgow, and the attempted attacks in London, this may not appear so funny; except that I‘ve been screaming with laughter ever since. It wasn’t the attacks themselves, of course: it was the political commentary afterwards.

"Al Qaeda has imported the tactics of Baghdad and Bali to the streets of the UK," said Lord Stevens, a former London police chief and Gordon Brown's terrorism adviser.


Al Qaeda, remember, were the guys who hijacked four planes and flew two of them into the World Trade Centre, and one into the Pentagon, and only failed with the fourth because of the bravery of the passengers: at least if we are to believe the official story that is. So now they have changed their tactics it seems. No longer satisfied with ruthless efficiency, they've decided to try stupidity instead.

Let’s get this right. Two guys in a jeep full of Calor Gas bottles and petrol, one of them with a can of petrol and a lighter, charge at full pelt into the entrance doors of Glasgow airport while simultaneously trying to set light to themselves. In what way is this “importing the tactics of Baghdad and Bali to the streets of the UK”?

The people who made the bomb in Bali knew what they were doing. They made a bomb. It was a real bomb. It worked. You don't have to sympathise with the bombers to know the difference. A bomb is something that blows up, not something that just catches alight.
Bombers in Baghdad regularly blow up US army convoys using a variety of sophisticated methods. Some of them are suicide bombers: that is they have explosives strapped to their body which they can detonate at will having positioned themselves next to their target. What they don’t do: they don’t douse themselves with petrol to act as a slow-burning fuse, setting light to themselves with a cigarette lighter, shouting “Allah! Allah!” while driving a jeep into a stationary building.

These people weren’t terrorists, they were idiots.

This is the kind of threat that can arise occasionally in any city or town across the world: the threat of rampant absurdity. People go crazy occasionally. They do crazy things. Sometimes they even set cars on fire.

These people did the kind of damage to Glasgow airport that you might see on a road when someone falls asleep at the wheel. Well no: nowhere near as bad. Glasgow airport, you see, wasn’t going anywhere. Glasgow airport couldn’t swerve across the road to hit the on-coming traffic. The jeep hit Glasgow airport and Glasgow airport stayed exactly where it was, albeit smouldering a bit.

Scary stuff.

But it gets worse.

The front page of the Guardian this morning (Wednesday 4th July) says this:

“Mastermind based abroad suspected of guiding plot.”


MASTERMIND? As if Dr No and Ernst Stavro Blofeld had got together to launch this fiendish plot. It must have taken years in the planning, trying to work out just how to have the least physical impact with the most amount of trauma.

Maybe Osama bin Laden himself orchestrated it. I can see him right now, sat up there in his mountain fortress, surrounded by armed guards, thinking up ways to bring down the west. “We’ve tried ruthless precision. We’ve tried diabolical efficiency. We’ve tried flying planes into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. Now let’s try stupidity as a tactic. They won’t be expecting that.”

The whole thing defies satire, it really does. A bunch of crazed idiots build a load of useless bombs and we are all supposed to be scared for our lives. Well they were clearly very angry people, willing to die for their cause: the only trouble is they had absolutely no idea how to go about it. The idea that there can possibly have been a link to Al Qaeda or that there was any training involved is just another one of those bad jokes.

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Al Qaeda.

Al who?


OK, so it’s not a funny joke.

Try this one instead. Have you heard the one about the new Middle East Peace Envoy?

It’s Tony Blair!


Now that is funny.

How Long Is A Piece Of String?

It probably took over a thousand years to build, from its first to its last, and was in constant use for several thousand years after that. Indeed, you could say that it has never really gone out of use, if my visit to see the sunrise with Joe can be counted too. Who are we but the latest in a long line of visitors come to admire and wonder at this mysterious structure?

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Gordon is a Mullet

Twice this week I’ve heard someone use a possessive pronoun in relation to the word “politics”.

First was Nick Dent of the anti-war Respect Party who I met in a pub in Whitstable, Kent. He said, “I’m glad people are beginning to understand my politics.”

“Pardon Nick, your politics, did you say? Since when did you acquire exclusive rights over politics?”

Next was a woman in a restaurant. She said, “Are you CJ Stone? I dislike your politics but I admire your writing.”

My politics. Your politics. It’s no wonder no one can ever agree on anything. Politics are seen as a possession, as something we own, rather than as the system by which we are regulated. The illusion is that any of us have any choice in the matter. The word “politics” here is really being used as a substitute for the word “opinion”.

This notion of politics is likely to be liberally applied over the next few weeks as the newspaper pundits begin to reflect upon the differences between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.

There will be a great deal of talk about different styles of politics, as if politics was really just a hairdo. Snip-snip, roll, grip, spray, a quick session under the hairdryer and bob’s-yer-uncle: a brand new political hair style. Gordon Brown is a mullet, Tony Blair is a perm.

Just to be clear: the word derives from the Greek word “polis” meaning city-state, and is related to a number of similar words, such as “police”, “polite” and “policy”.

They are all words which refer to the regulations we apply to ourselves as human beings living in close proximity.

There are a number of different political systems. The great trick of our current world-system is that it pretends to be one thing when it is something else entirely.

It pretends to be a democracy when it is actually an oligarchy. Democracy means rule by the many. Oligarchy means rule by the few.

The world is being run by the international corporations backed by the power of the American military. Massive concentrated economic and military power is in the hands of the very few and is being utilised on a world scale for their exclusive ends, and to prevent the rise of any meaningful democracy. The appearance of democracy is used to undermine democracy.

You can’t get less democratic than a corporation. A corporation is a form of tyranny. Employees of the McDonalds corporation, for example, don’t have any right of say in the policies of the organisation that regulates their lives. There is no democracy in McDonalds.

This is not an opinion, it is a fact.

Someone once said that politics is the shadow cast over society by big business. I think it is more like a magic trick: smoke and mirrors, sleight of hand, a grand illusion.

In other words, don’t expect any substantial changes now that Gordon Brown is in Number Ten.

He might change his hairstyle, he might change his dress-style, he might even change the cabinet around, but the politics will remain the same.

Court Refuses To Drop 6th Fairford Trial

Milling and Jones

Prosecution Case Continues Tomorrow


The re-trial began today of the 'Fairford Two' at Bristol Crown Court, making this series of trials the second longest the court has seen.

Jones, from Bristol, and Milling, from Cumbria disabled two articulated lorries, fifteen bomb-carrying trailers and three fuel trucks at the RAF base in Fairford, Gloucestershire, in 2003. They admit using hammers and boltcutters to disable the equipment on 13 March, just one week before the invasion of Iraq.

The pair, accused of conspiracy to commit criminal damage, have never denied damaging the vehicles, property of the US Air Force, but claim they were justified in doing so.

In Bristol Crown Court this morning lawyers for the two urged Judge Tom Crowther to dismiss the case on the grounds that the re-trial was 'oppressive', in view of acquittals in five previous related trials. The judge however, refused the application, and the trial began this morning with the prosecution's presentation of its case.

Jones and Milling said they wanted to stop US Air Force B-52 bombers taking off. They were trying to stop the “murder of innocent civilians” in Iraq.

Since the night of their arrest the defendants have claimed they were justified indisabling trailers used to transport bombs for US jets and fuel tankers in order to prevent war crimes being committed.

The two were the first defendants in an English crown court to use the defence of acting to prevent war crimes. They have been on bail for the past four years.

The linked cases of Milling and Jones, Pritchard and Olditch, and Josh Richards, were jointly the subject of a lengthy pre-trial appeal to the House of Lords, over what defence arguments the accused would be allowed to make in court. These appeals had to be completed before the separate trials could go ahead.

The law lords ruled that all five defendants could argue that they were trying to prevent war crimes - but not that the Iraq war was itself a crime.

The current trial is expected to continue until the end of the week.


Robbie Manson (solicitor) - 01239 821 066 / Mob. 07812 681
Paul Milling - 01539 436 691 (H) / Mob.0776 583 6150
Margaret (Monica) Jones - 0117 946 6885

Latest News: 7/7/07
In spite of the best efforts of our excellent legal team, we had a jury who unanimously found us guilty after only three hours of deliberation.
This was especially frustrating given the previous track record of three hung juries in the orignial trials, and two acquittals for the re-trials prior to ours. Such is life.
Paul got a conditional discharge. I have to go to see the probation people prior to sentencing, and probably will end up doing community service. (The US Air Force should NOT expect any compensation whatever for their damaged vehicles, regardless of anything else !)
Paul and I agreed this afternoon that we both still feel profoundly content about what we tried to do back, in 2003. We still see it as morally right. If it's been adjudged legally wrong - so be it. Only sorry we couldn't pull off a hat trick for the peace movement. (It's STILL two victories to one defeat - and that will have to do.)
I just want to say THANK YOU to our excellent and deeply committed legal team - and also to our wonderful supporters, who really have sustained us for weeks and days now, in so many, many ways.
'Say not the struggle nought availeth ... .
'Stand up, stand up against oppression, for the tyrants fear your might ...
'Peace, love, solidarity -

Friday, June 29, 2007

Postal Workers Dispute

Recently Amazon, the internet book store, shifted its bulk business from the Royal Mail to a rival company.

Rival companies include DX, TNT and UK Mail. You will have seen a variety of franks in the right hand corner of your letters, where the Queen’s head used to be, denoting a number of different companies.

Have you seen any DX, TNT or UK Mail postal workers on the street? What colour uniform to they wear?

The truth is, of course, that you’ve seen no such thing. The only people delivering mail are Royal Mail employees. Your postman and woman - the same person who has always delivered your letters, and who will, as likely as not, know you by name - is still the person who greets you at your door every morning with your mail. There are no rival companies to the Royal Mail in the delivery business.

What you have instead are companies allowed by the government to become parasites on the Royal Mail postal system. The process is called “down-stream access”. What this means is that a rival company can bid for a profitable section of Royal Mail’s trade, do all the easy work, drop it off at a Royal Mail delivery office and then demand that Royal Mail workers deliver it, at the rate of 13p per letter: less than half of what other customers pay.

Of all the companies in the postal business only Royal Mail has a universal delivery obligation.

In other words, what all this amounts to is privatisation by the back door. The trade from profitable city-to-city, bulk mail delivery and corporate sectors such as banks and utilities are sold off to the private companies, while the Royal Mail is expected to continue to deliver the rest: from Land’s End to John O’Groats, the rural, obscure and out-of-the-way post, the inner city areas where no other company would dare enter.

The current industrial action is not just about an under-inflation 2.5 % pay offer, it is also about diminishing conditions, lack of resources, and a contempt for quality of service. It is about whether we want a high-quality postal service in the future. It is about whether we want more junk mail through our post or less.

As part of the package on offer postal workers are being asked to deliver more items of junk through your post every day for the same pay. As if we aren't already chopping down enough trees to turn into adverts for hearing aids or double-glazing. Postal workers refer to this material as "landfill". It goes through the letter box and then straight into the bin.

Royal Mail have been bandying it about that postal workers can earn over £400 per week. I can speak from personal experience now and tell you that the average take-home pay is between £220-£250 per week.

I can also tell you that it is one of the most stressful jobs I have ever done, and that there were days when I worked nine hours without a single break: not even a sit down and a cup-of-tea.

In case you don’t know it, Royal Mail has a pet name for you: the ordinary, non-corporate householder sending post cards and letters and greetings cards the old fashioned way. They call you “Granny Smith”.

Granny Smith is every old lady on every estate who needs looking after and for whom the postal service is a life-line.

The Royal Mail management are on record as saying (I was at the meeting) that they no longer care about Granny Smith. Only the corporate business client matters now.




Robbie Manson (solicitor) - 01239 821 066 / Mob. 07812 681 083
Paul Milling - 01539 436 691 (H) / Mob.0776 583 6150
Margaret (Monica) Jones - 0117 946 6885


Three out of five Iraq war activists who tried physical damage to stop B-52bombers taking off from RAF Fairford in March 2003 have been found NOT GUILTY at Bristol Crown Court. This leaves the 'Fairford Two' - Paul Milling and Margaret Jones - to face re-trial.

Jones and Milling, charged with damage to US military vehicles, had their first trial for conspiracy to commit criminal damage last year. A re-trial was ordered when the jury failed to reach a verdict.

Lawyers have now asked the Crown Prosecution Service to drop the case. But the prosecution is determined to press on. The trial starts at Bristol Crown on Monday.

Jones, from Bristol, and Milling, from Cumbria, disabled dozens of bomb-carryingtrailers and fuel trucks at the RAF base in Fairford, Gloucestershire, in 2003. They admit using hammers and boltcutters to disable the equipment on 13 March, just one week before the invasion of Iraq.

They said they wanted to stop US Air Force B?52 bombers taking off. They weretrying to stop the “murder of innocent civilians” in Iraq.Since the night of their arrest the defendants have claimed they were justified indisabling trailers used to transport bombs for US jets and fuel tankers in order toprevent war crimes being committed.

The defendants deny conspiracy to cause criminal damage, arguing they wereentitled to be acquitted because they were acting to prevent war crimes and thedestruction of property in Baghdad.The two, who were the first defendants in an English crown court to use thedefence of acting to prevent war crimes. They have been on bail for the past four years.

The linked cases of Milling and Jones, Pritchard and Olditch, and Josh Richards,were jointly the subject of a lengthy pre-trial appeal to the House of Lords, over what defence arguments the accused would be allowed to make in court. These appeals had to be completed before the separate trials could go ahead.

The law lords ruled that all five defendants could argue that they were trying toprevent war crimes - but not that the Iraq war was itself a crime.


(1) Josh RichardsAn activist from Bristol, Josh Richards was charged with trying to set fire to thewheel of a B-52 bomber. In the re-trial earlier this month the jury debated for over 9hours and failed to reach a verdict.. The judge then ruled the defendant not guilty.

(2) Pritchard & OlditchThe re-trial of Philip Pritchard and Toby Olditch in May ended in unanimous acquittal by a jury of 11 women and one man. The two were arrested while trying to reach and disable a B-52 bomber.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tai Chi Twanky

I’ve been practising Tai Chi.

Actually, when I say “practicing” I think that needs some clarification.

Dentists practice dentistry. Doctors practice medicine. Lawyers practice law. ‘Practice’ implies some sort of knowledge, some sort of expertise. But if doctors or dentists or lawyers did their practice the way I practice Tai Chi, then the world would be a very scary place indeed.

Actually, in the case of lawyers, this is probably already the case. Lawyers already practice law the way I practice Tai Chi.

I’m not very good.

Tai Chi is a bit like that trick you learn as a child, patting your head while rubbing your belly, only more complicated. It is more like patting your head while rubbing your belly, while hopping up and down on one leg, while cooking bacon, egg and chips while reading the newspaper all at the same time.

It’s funny, because when you see it on the TV – all those old folks in parks in Beijing, doing their eloquent, stately movements in graceful unison – it looks so easy and so natural. And, indeed, when our teacher does it, it looks easy and natural too, like some slow-motion ballet.

When I do it, on the other hand, it looks more like a schizophrenic sumo wrestler fighting an invisible orang-utan. Usually the orang-utan is winning. I have a tendency to fall over.

Where I do it they also do Kung Fu and Kick Boxing and all these other martial arts.

In fact Tai Chi is a form of martial art. It is martial arts for cowards. The point about Tai Chi is to weave and shimmy out of your assailant’s grasp, to unbalance him so you can run away as quickly as possible.

So the place is full of young people, lively and enthusiastic, swirling and kicking like demons, in one room - leaping and spinning and hurrahing and making all these explosive, guttural, shouting noises - while us older folk are in the other, wobbling about and falling over.

One day one of the young kick boxers came into our room to collect her shoes. I was doing my Tai Chi walking. This involves a complex set of delicate steps, raising one leg, stepping out, balancing on the other leg, while doing these slow-motion hand movements like semaphore. And you could see it on her face. Her eyes went round and huge like saucepan lids. I was so useless. She thought she was watching Widow Twanky in Aladdin. It was more like pantomime than sport. If I’d have been wearing a wig and false bosoms I couldn’t have looked more insane. It was all she could do to stop herself screaming with laughter. I could see she was dying to tell her friends what she had witnessed in the martial arts club that night.

Actually Tai Chi is more than just exercise. The aim is the achieve balance in your life, between the opposing but complimentary forces of yin and yang. Yin is the receptive force, yang is the creative force. You cannot have one without the other.

The ‘Chi’ of ‘Tai Chi’ is understood as a sort of universal creative energy which you can breath in and store in your belly. Tai Chi is best practiced out of doors, in parks, near trees and waterfalls, while watching the clouds drift by.

And despite my difficulties, learning Tai Chi is actually very good for me, gentle on the old soul. How come Chinese people can do it with such grace? Because they practice it every day. And maybe, with a little practice, one day I can become graceful too.

1984 and All That

I’m very worried about my computer. It’s been doing some very odd things of late. I tell it to do one thing and it does something else. It’s like a recalcitrant teenager throwing a permanent paddy, stamping its foot and going off in a virtual sulk.

Cunning Folk

There are some books which are influential without necessarily being credible. One of those books is The Witch Cult of Western Europe by Margaret Murray, first published in 1921.

The basic theory is that witchcraft is a modern survival of pre-Christian forms of worship, and that the persecution of the witches which took place throughout the middle ages was a Christian attempt to eradicate a rival religion.

The theory has since been discredited. But the reason the book has been so influential is that one person, at least, believed it, and set out to recreate what he imagined this religion to be.

That person was Gerald Gardiner, and the religion he founded was Wicca.

There is an irony here. Wicca is often referred to as “the Old Religion”, or “the Craft”, while making assertions about its link to an ancient tradition, and yet its one true claim to historical importance is that it is, in fact, a very successful new religion, born in the British Isles, which has since spread to many parts of the globe.

Where Margaret Murray and Gerald Gardiner might have been on to something is that, though there never was a religion which could be identified as witchcraft, there were certainly some odd magical practices which survived well into the last century, and which may have had their roots in some ancient belief system.

The people who practiced these beliefs were not usually called witches, however. Often they claimed to protect people from witches, who were understood to be people who used magic for evil ends. No: the general name they went under was “cunning-folk”.

I like that. Cunning-folk. Cunning-men and cunning-women. Folk who use cunning in the practice of the magical arts; which means that another word for “magic” might be “cunning”.

And looking the word up in my dictionary I can see that it is related to the Old Viking word kunna, to know, which is probably related to the Scottish word “canny”, meaning shrewd, astute or knowing, and to the English word “can”, as in “can do”, meaning the ability to do something. In other words, the cunning-folk are shrewd, clever or canny folk who know how to do things.

The activities of these mysterious people were made illegal under the same laws which banished witchcraft, in 1542, 1563 and 1604, and which outlawed "witchcraft, enchantment, charm, or sorcery, to tell or declare in what place any treasure of gold or silver might be found…. or practice any sorcery, enchantment, charm or witchcraft to the intent to provoke any person to unlawful love."

Which is a startling concept. The first part would make metal detecting illegal, while the second seems to imply that there can be such a thing as “unlawful love”. How can love, in any form, ever be made unlawful?

The reason that cunning-folk were rarely prosecuted is that people depended on them too much, and that they were too respected in their communities for anyone to inform on them. Also, they kept themselves to themselves and stayed quiet.

Later, in 1736, the laws were amended. Witchcraft became a lesser crime. Later again, in 1951, all the laws were finally repealed. It was then that Gardiner set out to create his new religion based, as he claimed, upon an old one.

Meanwhile cunning-folk continued their mysterious practices, making love-charms and casting spells, predicting the future, driving away evil spirits, and making sure that all was well with the world, well into the 20th century.

And who knows, maybe they are doing it still?

How do you know, in fact, that I’m not a cunning-man?