Monday, 12 August 2019

Hoping for the best while preparing for the worst.

Racing towards an unknown future is, frankly, terrifying. And yet it is being forced upon a whole nation thanks to its leaders and a 3.5% majority . 

The future is always obscure, but at least it was that little bit more predictable. The economy was stable. Businesses were willing to invest. Spending was always on the increase. 

Brexit has changed that.

Yes, the planet will keep on spinning. Yes, for many there might be hard times ahead but they'll get by. But what if you're like me? Renting a flat in an area where rent is too high for the average income. No savings. Low wages. Already in poverty. Already struggling. 

It scares me. 

We are doing what we can to prepare for the worst. And that doesn't have to mean Brexit. It can mean bad times ahead if one of us gets sick or injured so that we can't work. We are stocking up the cupboards with dried goods, and we're pickling and making jam from our allotment produce. But that won't pay the rent or the bills. 

This is what it is like to be a part of the working poor. 

We count ourselves lucky compared to others. We don't need much, and somehow we always get by. We buy pound books from the charity shop, and we do our best to be environmentally friendly. We budget and we have not gone hungry. It doesn't mean that we're not struggling.  

It was never supposed to be like this. This wasn't our dream. But this is where we are right now.

The wealthy don't understand how their political games affect those at the bottom. I don't think they actually care. So insignificant we must seem to them. 

We don't understand those who are like us but who are not doing anything to prepare. Family, friends who live all for the 'now' and don't put something aside for the future whether it is extra food or money if they have it. The ones who think everything will be OK because it has always been OK. 

Sometimes, things are not alright and sometimes there aren't happy endings. This isn't a movie. 

The question is, can we live hoping for the best while preparing for the worst? 

Friday, 12 October 2018

If having choice relates to freedom, we should now be the most free generation of any era. 

But we are not free. 

And choice can feel like a chain around the neck, tying us to the ground instead of letting us climb the ladder that we are all supposed to be striving for. 

It is almost irrelevant that someone invented that ladder. I mean, what is it? 

It is a social construct. An imagined path to better ourselves financially and, presumably put us into a "better" class. It is a cruel invention of capitalists and commercialism to keep us consuming in order to increase growth/profits to the already wealthy, and to keep the taxes being paid. 

It is a construct that keeps us stuck in this artificial lifestyle that few actually admit to liking.

 And it gives us choice. Too much choice. And that is a burden. 

Take for example the very simple act that is buying a bag. There are literally hundreds of thousands of bags to choose from. You can narrow your choice to style and cost, materials if it's important to you, and colour. But you will still come up with so many. So then you have to look at reviews. What do other people say about the product? Will it survive long term (you're reading the words of a writer who has kept a hiking backpack for 20 years, so rest assured I'm looking for a bag that will survive). In the end, I went for army surplus bags because I figured they were designed to survive a rough environment. It made the process of choosing easier, you see.

A bag is just a small choice to make. What about how we make a living (how do we know we've made the right choice? That we're doing the right thing). We can do anything we want to but it involves making a conscious choice. 

I struggle every day with my business because of the choices I have to make. Honestly? I would rather be living off the land in some far off forest away from all technology (yes, I know, I am writing this on a blog and not in a weathered, leather bound notebook. I can see the irony, thank you) than decide what area of photography I am going to specialise in...

If we weren't all so focused on making more and more money, maybe no one would have to be a specialist whatever, and we could all be content doing whatever came up.  

And what has all this choice and "growth" done for the planet? Nothing good, that's for sure. 

There has to be a better way, surely. 

In the meantime, this writer will be making choices as limited as possible. 

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.