Life Learning

Every piece of clothing was previously loved by my elder brother…

We’ve only just returned to our sanctuary from the craziness. Jet lag still sends us to bed early and wakes us up while the sky is still inky; we’ve yet to re-synchronize our body clocks with the daily cycle here in southern British Columbia. Our trip to England – with one small sojourn into North Wales – proved to be exhausting. The positives – family celebrations, friends being visited after many years, trips to some of the most iconic places in the country – outweighed the negatives. Even so, the hectic pace of life, the overall expense and sheer fullness of that relatively tiny country left us breathless and stressed, and by the last day of our vacation, longing to return home to where we both have found peace.

However, it was worth it. I learned more things about other people and myself. They include:

  • I really don’t enjoy being in a metal tube for hours at a time, no matter how much legroom I have.
  • Sausages never tasted so good as they do in the land of my birth.
  • The country seems to be shrinking.
  • I’m completely unsuited to living in the modern world.
  • I’m out of practice with regard to being social, even with people I know.
  • It’s ridiculously easy to find excellent food in my home country. By ‘excellent’, I mean tasty, unhealthy and high-carbohydrate savoury stuff; exactly the food I shouldn’t be eating…
  • Even in the culture of my upbringing, there are not a great many people with whom I feel an affinity.
  • I’m a great deal fatter than I was the last time I was there.

This is not an exhaustive list, but I reckon that deep and meaningful insights into my emotional state can remain less public (unless, of course, the nation’s clamouring for such becomes too loud). Worthy of distinct mention, however, is the startling discovery that I used to be a bow tie-wearing eejit (see photograph above). Now you may think that I’m being unduly harsh about the four year old boy in the picture, but I’ve been an eejit my entire life. The bow tie is a suppressed memory, and as you can see for yourself, with good reason.

The tie was on elastic of course, as were my shorts. Uncomfortable to recall as it may be, the truth is that my body is pushing me inexorably towards another, rather distressing phase of elasticated waists. What goes around comes around, they say. I just have more circumference to fit things around these days.

Well now…

Yes I am, thanks – at least for the present, and hopefully for the future. As an insulin-injecting diabetic (let’s just skim over all the other issues ravaging a once finely-honed athletic machine), I’ve been told by my GP to stay home.

I’m fortunate; we have a reasonably expansive garden of a little over half an acre and I have some space to roam around, or if I so choose, to lie on my back and blow bubbles at the circling eagles. The problem with the latter would be that they might land and start pecking at my eyes, or a passing Turkey Vulture might spot an opportunity and fail to ask permission before going for my soft parts. On balance, I’d best stick to moving around to indicate ongoing life.

Our small island with some one thousand residents is an enclave; a figurative and literal oasis of refuge from the mainland and neighbouring larger island . I certainly hope that it remains so; a large proportion of our residents are aged over sixty. We’re quite thinly spread; a thousand of us shared between fifty-one square kilometres in a variety of large, smaller, tiny and shack properties. Our cul-de-sac neighbourhood of twenty-something homes is a mixture of full-time and holiday properties. One of our neighbours owns an empty field which borders one side of our garden, the other adjoining neighbouring property is unoccupied for three weeks out of every four. It’s not difficult to feel that we live on an island within an island.

Why, then, should I feel at all anxious? Well (again; yes, I am at the moment, thank you) for a couple of reasons. First, I’m no longer indestructible, as my recent dalliance with serious illness demonstrated to me. It’s strange to feel this way, but I feel a little vulnerable. Secondly, my type one diabetes makes me a member of the high risk group for serious or lethal complications. Frankly, I think this is rather unfair – I mean I already have to closely monitor my blood sugar all day every day, I’m denied many of my favourite foods, I dose myself with insulin all day and face the likelihood of a shortened life span. Now this shit too? Enough, I say!

A nanosecond behind this thought comes another; it could be so much worse. I might be in hospital now. This crisis might have hit two years ago when I was at my most frail. I, like so many unfortunate people, might be fighting a serious or terminal illness at this very moment. Also, of course, there is a thought for the thousands of people around the world who have already lost their lives, and all the grieving relatives and friends left behind by those deaths. Of course it could be worse; I might be dead. For many people, it already is much worse.

While my opinion of the realities of the viral threat have evolved as more and more information became available, my feelings about the media have remained constant. As we know, the media rarely, if ever, accept any blame. For anything. It’s easy to deflect; while we may be able to draw straight lines between their behaviour and some undesirable outcomes for individuals or corporations, those lines are usually a series of dots rather than solid, unbroken marks. It’s easy for the powerful media to insert their excuses, mitigation – valid or otherwise – or even direct denials in between those dots to disrupt the flow of blame and effectively preventing anything landing on their doorsteps. It’s hard for the rest of us to prove anything, and even harder to find a way to go public with it. They have it all sewn up.

With regard to a public health crisis, it’s easier than ever to claim public interest motivations for their approach to the issue. However, I firmly believe that at least some of the recent public disregard of the public health advice has been caused by the utterly relentless media coverage of the story. Aside from the feeling that nothing else has been happening in the world for the last three weeks, the endless ‘Breaking News!’ reports of every tiny detail has, I believe, worn away the public’s tolerance for the subject. We’ve been battered by the minutiae of each announcement, by the analysis, by the projections and by the interminable ruminations of pundits, expert and not-so-expert alike. As an example, today I watched an earnest interview about hygiene standards in the home. The ‘expert’ was a well-known chef. A chef.

While the stupidity of those who ignore the isolation or distancing protocols is difficult to tolerate, I don’t find it particularly surprising that significant numbers of people feel able to ignore common sense. Having worked for some years in and around the emergency services, the ability of people to do the most ridiculous things is something I’ve become familiar with. People tend to feel indestructible, secure and safe. When they’re also bombarded with sensational story after sensational story with no appreciable change in their living circumstances, that sense of impregnability is reinforced. Bad things, after all, only ever happen to someone else. Don’t they? Not a shock then, that we see young people spring-breaking their young lives away in Florida, that we see the beaches filled in Australia, that the National Parks in Britain (tiny by Canadian standards) are clogged with the parked cars of people taking recreational hikes.

Getting the message out is one thing. It’s important to give people the information that they need to do the right thing to protect themselves and others. It’s another thing to make the story a sensationalized hype-fest night after night. People become numb to it and stop listening. The dumber they are, the more quickly they become numb. Dumb and numb-er…

At the other end of the scale is another kind of stupidity. The panicked hoarder; the person who decides that the needs of everyone else are secondary to their own, and who decides to grab as much stuff as they possibly can, as quickly as they can. These folks make their minds up about the danger very quickly and cannot be shaken from their over-developed sense of peril. These folks wish they had a bunker stocked with five years’ supplies every time the power goes out in a wind storm. These folks will fight one another for toilet paper and will show up to shop at a time reserved especially for the vulnerable members of society. This kind of human would trample on children to get out of a smoke-filled room. Yes it’s selfishness – an extreme form of it – but it’s also a kind of stupidity which excludes the benefits of collaboration, of teamwork and of common decency towards the most vulnerable. It’s a shame that these people don’t gather together in large groups – on cruise ships, for example (far away from the rest of us) where the virus could do everyone else a favour.

One day in the not-so-distant future, we will find ourselves clawing our way back to the normality that we used to take for granted. Some things will have changed for good; some jobs will have evaporated, some attitudes to our invincibility will have been irreparably damaged. I suspect that many behaviours will be different. Sadly, of course, some people will never be seen on this earth again; some lives snuffed out and others shattered by grief.

I’m sad to say that I also believe some things will not change. Our species’ greed will return quickly (the money and stock markets’ undimmed avarice notwithstanding), wastefulness will be right behind it along with conspicuous consumption of just about everything. We will feel a need to treat ourselves to compensate for all the hardships of the current time, ignoring the truth of the billions who would look at us in our most inconvenienced moments with envy for the luxury and ease of our lives. We will feel as if we have heroically survived our darkest hour, forgetting the plight of the millions brutally misplaced by war and hunger or thirst.

Most of all, we will return to demonstrations of stupidity.

A Book Happened

Not quite overnight (more like over more than a thousand nights; this has been a ‘back burner studios’ production) my second memoir, still inspired by a desire to leave behind something of my story, has just hit the shelves of Amazon. Initially a Kindle ebook, it can also be ordered in print through Amazon. I happen to think it’s bloody good value.

My two books to date (more are on the way) can be found by searching Amazon for Liam Samolis (my pen name) or by following the link below. I hope you take the plunge – after all the financial risk is negligible (over five hundred pages for about the price of a beer!) – and even more, I hope you enjoy my work.


The Truth Can Sting a Little

This space would normally be used for a photo, but I’ll be damned if I’ll give some unscrupulous politician the honour.

So, after all the huffing, puffing, the ranting and raving, the screaming and yelling and at least one murder, Brexit has come/is coming/might yet come to pass. Britain, in its wisdom has declared itself to be an ex-member of the European Union. The shenanigans and malarkey (personally, I prefer a little malarkey to shenanigans) have been played out in full view of a slightly bewildered rest-of-the-industrial-world, and need no further description here, The sword has fallen, and Britain – pending some bad-tempered negotiations about future relationships – is essentially alone.

You may be able to guess that I think this is an absolutely bonkers idea, but since I have lived thousands of miles away from the land of my birth for some eighteen years now, I’ll thankfully be somewhat insulated from the economic fallout of this crass stupidity. The damage is at the very least already partly done, no matter what the future holds. Even if Brexit was wiped away tomorrow and Britain started out again with a clean slate, billions of pounds have been lost to the economy in the last three years. It’s a senseless waste, and all for the sake of justifying xenophobia. That, however, is not the greatest problem facing my fellow Britons.

The lasting damage to Britain is internal. Brexit has been a malignant influence on the nation’s population. In 2015, polls indicated that the EU was only considered an important topic by 10% of the electorate. Now, as a direct result of the lies propagated by the right wing in the country, the nation is divided in a way that I cannot remember in my fifty-plus years. What I see more and more online in discussions on the subject is the worst kind of illness: hate. Hate on both sides for those who hold differing opinions; hate which breeds outlandish accusations of treason and traitors in our midst, and hate which ushers in the kind of authoritarian government the world has seen far too many times in the last 100 years.

A populist right wing government holds power for the next five years, and maybe more. Pollsters and pundits continue to argue about the reasons for the result of the recent general election, much as they did over the election of the orange idiot in Washington DC. America wrung its hands over his electoral success (albeit through a corruptible electoral system which beggars belief and good sense) but refused to tell itself the truth. Now Britons do the same, fearful of saying out loud what is evident to those of us outside of that particular box.

The voters of Britain chose this government because millions of Britons agreed with much of what they said in their campaigns for Brexit and election. This despite the majority of such claims about the EU, immigration and the Labour party having been proven quite clearly to be false. An awful lot of people decided to swallow the politicians’ lies, and having done so – at least, it seems to me – they have staked a large part of their world view upon that decision. Changing their minds has become too difficult to do for reasons of pride and ego. Recognizing that another viewpoint may in fact be correct has become a hateful thought. People who express an opposite opinion are worthy of contempt. Those who point out the dangers of Brexit are nothing less than traitors.

The upshot of the whole sorry affair has been to alienate family members and friends from one another. Civilized debate on this particular subject has died and has been replaced with spiteful name-calling.

I’m deeply saddened by this turn of events, not only because I’ve seen people I know turn into irrationally angry caricatures of their former selves, but because this phenomenon has ruined a society which once successfully managed its differences. Perhaps, however, all we ever did was lie to ourselves about ourselves. Maybe we were hiding from the truth; hiding from the fact that we were far more divided than we were ever prepared to admit. I wonder if the outpouring of hate was inevitable; the veneer of civility crumbling before an overwhelming tide of lies and misinformation followed by tribal lines of disagreement being fostered by the nation’s politicians.

I hope not. I hope we were better than that. But then, I suspect that many Americans hoped that their country would never elect an overt racist and pathological liar to the highest office in the land. I suspect that many Americans were stunned to find that so many of their countrymen/women would ever – or could ever – support such a set of ideas. They have discovered the truth: millions of Americans agree with, endorse and support some pretty bloody unpleasant ideas and behaviours. Given the rolling train crash that the current administration has proven to be, they might be forgiven for thinking that Trump’s re-election would be in doubt. Not so; the new truth is undeniable. Racism, xenophobia and hate are popular. Millions of Americans are the kind of people we might not want for neighbours.

So it is, I think, with Britain today. Many Britons have shaken off their shrouds of reason and instead clothed themselves in obstinacy, wrapped themselves in an inaccurate version of history and proven themselves to be unreasonable boors. Every political misstep is being shrugged off as fake news or ‘project fear’ propaganda, every pronouncement from their favoured politico is taken as proof of the wisdom of Brexit, regardless of veracity. Today, I came across an online opinion about the current environmental crises brought about by extreme weather. Flooding, this person said, was the fault of the European Union and the control they have over the management of Britain’s waterways. Flood defences and amelioration measures can be constructed now that the country is no longer a part of the EU, they said.

My sadness is tinged with relief; relief that I don’t have to live in the mess that the country is becoming, and an even greater relief that I don’t have tio worry about having the kind of neighbours who are immune to evidence, truth and reason. For those people, the truth hurts too much to be tolerable.

Not the beginning, not the end. It’s the middle.

Contrary to what the opening statement would have you believe, I’m not new. I’m not particularly old, either. I’m middle-aged. I hate that term…

Even this blog isn’t new. It’s a continuation of a blog I had on another platform (which like most things I am unfamiliar with/unable to use properly, was shite) and which I will be referencing from time to time when I am really feeling too knackered or apathetic to write something original or topical. It’s my age, you see; I’m what you might call a curmudgeon, with a permanently disgruntled expression on my face to match the title. I can’t help that; it’s my genes, mixed with a dash of gravity. Or…it might be the diabetes…or the hypertension. There is also a reasonable chance that I’m influenced by a recent brain tumour and two major surgeries within a six week period, along with associated persistent and deteriorating hormone deficiencies, but that would be making excuses. Mostly, I’m just an irritable old fart with too much fat around my middle and startlingly enormous, deeply unattractive underpants.

I’m suddenly feeling pleased with myself because I didn’t mention the thirty sessions of radiotherapy. Oh shit…

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus you own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.