Monday, 14 May 2018

It started with a conversation on whether the flat earthers (a group of people who are starting to question science and who believe the earth is flat) had a point. It ended with me realising that there are people who are so closed minded that it's pointless discussing things with them. 

No, I don't believe the Earth is flat. 

But...what's interesting is that the flat earthers are getting to the heart of a problem. That is, we trust in science too much and what the average person believes is bonafide fact can actually be just a theory that has yet to be disproven. 

Perhaps it is from my geological background. My degree taught me to observe what is happening today and from that you can study the past, and you can then use that to predict potential future events.  That is called the uniformitarian principle. 

My friend, however, studied biology and has a very different outlook. One thing led to another and a debate ensued. 

I was spurred on from watching a YouTube clip of  Philip Schofield interviewing some Flat Earthers. He completely ridiculed them and kept asking them if Newton was wrong about the apple falling. And this is where the lay person gets things confused.

Gravitational force is an observation of a natural phenomenon. It is a stable observation.

Gravitational force is not evidence that the world is round.

There are plenty of observations that do show that the Earth is spherical, however. Such an accumulation of observations can be used to collaborate and create an over all picture.

What the flat earthers are doing is carrying out experiments to test those observations (scientific rules show that results must be repeatable). From what I gather, they are experiencing differences in results (potentially from not having a big enough testing area) and so they therefore use it to bolster their belief that the Earth is flat.

To ridicule people for a different belief is wrong. Or did we not learn anything from Galileo's imprisonment by the Catholic Church? If you remember your history, he was in serious trouble for claiming that the Earth revolved around the Sun.

The point of science is to open up our minds to possibilities, not close it down with dogma. It is also the duty of scientists to accept the rigorous testing of theory.

In the 1800s, scientists believed in an aether that allowed light to transmit itself...because it has wave form it was believed that there had to be an invisible medium that enabled light to be propagated through it. It was known as a luminiferous aether. Michaelson and Morley experimented to try to determine the relative motion of matter through this supposed aether. They found nothing. The theory was later made completely obsolete by Einstein's work.

How about Newtonian physics superseding Aristotelian physics?

And Quantum Physics... I'm not going to go there. That's something entirely different but absolutely fascinating.

I worry about how monochromatic people seem to be. One dimensional. Dogmatic. "Us and them" thinking.

You only have to see how strongly the divide between the Brexiteers and Remainers is to see this in action. There is no grey area. It really is Us and Them.

And, OK, I fall into this trap myself as a staunch remainer.

It is human nature to divide into groups but it seems to becoming more defined now than ever before. The last time it was this bad was before World War II.

It is easy to blame circumstances on another group of people rather than look at resolving the issue.

So is it important to know that the earth is round or flat? Not really. What is important is that we maintain an open mind and let people decide for themselves using truthful observation and fact.

Did it go down well in the debate? No, it did not. Because dogma rules.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

The car crash shouldn't have happened.

We weren't even supposed to be there. If I hadn't given S a lift because she was running a few minutes behind and if the other lady wasn't giving her friend a lift home from a workout session on the beach...and perhaps even if the man in the third car hadn't been dropping his wife off to work.

But it did happen.

Driving down the hill, we were looking forward to a sunny day. I had work plans, website work to do and a stroll around the headland planned in my head. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a car came onto our side of the road. I beeped the horn as a warning but, to me at least, the car seemed to veer in even more. A couple of heart beats later and the cars collided. One minute I was staring out of the windscreen at a silver car that was too close, the next there was a huge bang and my vision was a white out.

Confused, I beat at the air around my face . It was the airbag. I felt claustrophobic, the air was thick with icy white smoke from the air bag mechanism. I shoved the fabric away from my face and opened the door.

The order of things becomes confusing. Did I swear before or after I realised blood was flowing down my face from my nose? I do remember telling S to call the police before getting out of the car and seeing the other driver doubled over in tearful shock. I remember telling the driver's friend to sit her down and, no not just on the pavement, put her back up against the wall in case she's injured and goes into shock. Then I stopped being a first aider. I realised that I was going into shock, so I too sat down on the pavement up against the wall, blood running down my chin, smeared on my hands.

S was talking to police.

Some man walked up to me and asked if I was ok. I don't know what I said but he walked off again. He started directing traffic.

Time became distorted. A train had pulled in, a woman offered me a roll of toilet paper to mop up the blood (I had found a handkerchief in my pocket by then, it was OK). That confused me. Someone in a veterinary nurse uniform asked if I was OK and said something and then walked off.

I looked over at the crumpled mess of the car. The tyre was flat and the wheel in a funny shape, like a cartoon. Bits of car where shattered all over the road. A steady leak was coming out from where the radiator should be. "That'll be expensive", I thought.

And then the paramedic was there.

You know you're the worst injured when the paramedic assesses the scene and then comes to you first. That's the dead give away.

S was standing nearby. The other woman was tearful and kept apologising. Her friend was talking about heading off. And I was sat quietly on the floor with a bloody handkerchief. No brainier, I guess.

My quietness was my way of stilling myself so I could assess the damage to my body: what was hurting. My face. My neck. My wrist...? I looked down, it had a weird swelling.

"My wrist," I said, "there's something wrong with my wrist".

I repeated it in shock, I saw the other woman looking horrified and she started to cry again.

There was an assessment, and I found myself sat in the paramedic car while the paramedic did his paperwork. The swelling was going down, the nose had stopped bleeding. A minor injuries hospital visit looked inevitable.

I had had no idea that we had been hit by a car behind us as well. That was the man who had been directing the traffic until the police had arrived. I have no recollection of that happening. And S had been hit on her knees by the airbag. Strange! But then we did have a van car and the airbag for the passenger side was huge.

S was brilliant. Taking photographs, and taking the driver details. She took control while I was senseless on the floor. Mind you, I had been smacked full in the face by an airbag but still... I feel now that I was ineffectual.

The injuries are not serious.. The whiplash is painful, and my nose is bruised and sore. I have various bruises and abrasions, as does S with hers and her whiplash. But we are alive. We are walking. We have no car because it was immediately written off but it will be OK.

That's all that's important, isn't it?

But thre's one thing that I can't get over.

When it all happened, there was nothing in my mind. No "life flashing before your eyes" moments. It was just a vision of a car, a bang, and whiteness. That's it.

And it reminded me of a news item I saw a few weeks back of a man who got punched in the side of the head and he was dead. Just like that. Walking along one moment, dead on the floor the next. And I realised that he too would have experienced nothing.

I did not feel anything. There was no immediate pain. There were no thoughts. Just experience.

It makes you wonder about life. What could come after it. Is there anything that comes after? Was I expecting the comfort of a hidden guardian angel or some spiritual awakening? Am I being dramatic for what was a five second mini episode of life?

But if life can be snuffed out like that, what are we doing here? Why do we focus on silly things like computer games or petty annoyances?  Why do we focus on small things?

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Thinking Small

Sitting in the bay window I can see huge ships, hillsides and an expanse of water that - if I stand up and look over to the southeast and past the small strip of land that connects Pendennis with the rest of Falmouth - seems to go on forever.

From this viewpoint, you can see people strolling arm in arm down the pier, the homeless person who has taken up residence outside an old shop, and people meandering up and down the main street, some with a purpose others not.

I can see this as I sit here in the old, worn leather arm chair with my back to another bay window.

Logic tells me that if I look out of any other window in the house, I will also see people milling about or going about their day to day chores. Perhaps I could see someone enjoying an afternoon drink in a pub, or a pasty on one of the benches on the moor. Expand my imagination and I might be able to imagine people walking their dogs up by the castle, or eating ice cream on the beach. The thing is, when I stop trying to imagine them, then those people retreat to the shadows of my imagination.

As humans, we are limited to the senses that we experience and, although we do have the power of imagination, we can not sustain or truly grasp the immensity of what is life.

In the square mile around me there might be a few hundred, a thousand (maybe) people going about their own lives. There are seagulls, cats, dogs, pigeons to whatever numbers... And then we have potentially millions of insects, and then billions of bacteria. Unimaginable.

Humans think small.

Our brain receives the information but it only processes some of it.

This focus on the small stuff makes it easier to pass a £25,000 item through a business budget than getting just £500 for a laptop. (I used to work in IT. It was easier to get a full server system than it was to replace a broken P.C.).

The mind is biased towards the small details and petty items that it can properly grasp onto.

It is said that problems always seem so big until you imagine looking down on yourself from up in space - that it can give you the perspective that things aren't as big as you think.

The only real question is: if we are predestined to think small, perhaps the only real choice that we have is how small minded we decide to let ourselves be.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Spending a lot of time working in a religious building has given me so many questions and thoughts. 

The political nature that is "religion" aside, the beliefs, the faith and the dedication fascinate me. I sometimes find myself wishing that I could believe in something that much, because it always seems to give people a sense of calm, or perhaps a sense of belonging and comfort. 

I have watched people wipe tears away after kissing the crucifix, and I have seen people stand in religious fervour as they open their arms to accept a higher power. I have watched from the sidelines while they have prayed, or when they have taken Holy Communion. And it strikes me that is is a privilege to photograph what are intimate moments in their lives. 

To be able to spend time taking photographs in a place of worship is something that deserves to be carried out with deep respect. It is not a party or a concert that people are watching and participating in. These are the moments that people are communicating with their God.

What I stand by and witness is faith. Belief. Hope. 

Religion is a difficult subject because of history, and because of the division it can cause. But what if we looked at the similarities instead of the differences? There are always common themes. 

The Buddhist meditation class I attend speaks a lot about abandoning self-cherishing, and focusing instead on compassion and kindness. It can not be a coincidence that other religions also praise these qualities. Christianity talks about "loving thy neighbour as thyself", and the Qur'an says to love and be merciful to our neighbours. 

While I am not a religious person, nor do I adhere to any one book or thought, I do believe that there are some basic qualities of mind that should be nurtured and developed. I also believe that there are some qualities of mind which are definitely not helpful.

It is interesting that people are turning away from religion, and when they experience problems they now turn to psychologists and councillors instead. Psychology is the scientific approach to thought patterns and "correcting" them. It is a recognition that the mind has the power to control the way we see the world. We just have to learn to use the right filters to see. 

The newspapers thrive on telling us how bad the world is. There is a bias towards the negative (bad news sells and all that).  But if we stop reading all of that content and, instead, focus on good things, you'd be amazed by the kindness out there. 

What is also fascinating is the idea of constancy. That moments define who people are. It is easy to think that the person who cut you up on the roundabout must be a bastard all the time (not that he might have been in a daydream, or that circumstances meant he was in a panic to get somewhere), but we all know that experiences pass. 

The idea of having, and cherishing, a constant "me" or "I" which blatantly doesn't exist (even science has recently discovered this to be true). But perhaps that is where Buddhism and Christianity are divided - that Christianity seems to focus on the senses (body/food/smell), Buddhism teaches about the nature of emptiness.

Spending time in a building with the smell of frankincense wafting around you in a light haze, and the sound of silence does give space in the mind which encourages a lot of thought.  But what if there are no answers to my questions, and my thoughts are leading to the proverbial rabbit hole. 

It surprises me all the time where photography has taken me. I am an observer, and I treat the responsibility and the sensitivity that is needed with the seriousness that it deserves. 

Thursday, 29 March 2018

No one ever says that freelance work or starting your own business is easy... I'm not going to either.

That's because working for yourself is hard. Everything about it is hard except for the hot summer days that you can sneak down to the beach, only to realise you have to play catch up when you get home.

3 years ago I started my own business.

I abandoned my job with very little in the bank. You could say that it was irresponsible. I would say that it was bold. It was an act of bravery to step out of the expectation of a career to live, instead, for my dreams.

It has been one hell of a ride. In my first year, I was really sick. Like visits to the hospital and taking morphine kind of sick. My second year was about recovery and my third about discovering what I enjoyed about my work. And now? I can feel that this is going to be the best year yet.

I've met so many people on the way, learned so many things and I am really only just beginning. 

How amazingly lucky am I to be able to photograph people in the best moments. Their happiest moments. The times when they are enjoying what they are doing, or when they are having a moment in time that they will want to remember for ever?

Photography is a privilege like no other. It is personal. It is getting to know people. It is about capturing the best moments, documenting lives. That makes my job worth everything. :)

Monday, 26 March 2018

The Paradoxical Society

Has our society become selfish and mean-spirited? 

We have the press that shame those who clearly need help, or they raise hell about "fake homeless" and benefit frauds. People I know complain about "foreigners who come to this country to take up our benefits", or the "lazy bastards who are taking our hard earned money to live the life of Riley".

People like Ant McPartlin don't need to be publicly humiliated, he's most likely in a bad enough place as it is. That he is being used as a marketing piece to sell trashy newspapers is morally corrupt. People in bad situations need support not beratement.

The recent story of a "millionaire businessman" in Torbay photographing and so-called outing "fake homeless" people. Senseless. 

There are lifestyle choices you can make, like whether you are a fitness king or queen, or a sofa sloth, but choosing to sleep out on the streets during the recent snows and minus temperatures? I don't think that's a choice somehow, the reason is irrelevant. It's not like they're doing it to inconvenience others.

There used to be a time when we would provide night shelters for the homeless, and give them warm soup. Now we walk past them and blame them for getting into the situation they are in. 

Just when you think our society can get no lower...there is hope. 

The new generation are more generous and willing to donate more on average to charities. In fact, the British public in general are increasing the amount of charitable giving. (2.9% in the UK in 2017), and most people report donating money from time to time.

The recent snow storms gave the opportunity for people to shine. There was more neighbourliness...and people actually talked in the streets. Some owners of 4x4s were offering to take NHS staff to and from work. A group of 4x4 owners in Devon (the Devon and Cornwall 4x4 Response group) volunteered their vehicles and time to transport vital supplies and support the police and medics when needed.

These are the stories that give a different side to our society that is so at odds with the negative stories that the mainstream media press upon us. 

Our society is living in a paradox. We want Britain to be great but we fail to witness its decline. A great society cannot be judged by its wealth but its happiness. And a great society can measure its equality not disparity.

With  1 in 4 of us likely to experience a mental health problem each year, and a growing rift between rich and poor (According to the Equality Trust, the "top fifth" of the population earns 40% of the income, and the richest 10% of households hold 45% of all wealth). The level of inequality is increasing. And we all know that Brexit and austerity benefits the rich, while the poor shoulders the burden.

And then there is the faith paradox. Our so-called political leaders who claim that they use their Christian values to guide them, while their actions are very different. If their values guided them, why did a rough sleeper die outside parliament? And why would they be dismantling and selling the NHS for profit when it has such a negative impact on our health?

Life is not all doom and gloom, although those negative stories certainly help sell papers.There is actually a tremendous amount of kindness. The kindness might not be consistent (just because someone donates to an animal charity doesn't mean that they're going to offer a cup of tea to a rough sleeper on the street), but where there is the seed of kindness, there is always hope.

The thing with a paradox is that two things can't exist at once. In much the same way that time lines can not exist together, the paradoxical illusions we have created will at some point implode on us and we will have to establish a new truth. One, of course, that I am sure will be carefully guided by the press and the spin doctors while we immerse ourselves in the latest binge-worthy Netflix series.

[Random fact - Did you know that £189 million was raised in 2015 by bake sales alone?]