Untitled: not sure what to call this.

Sometimes it is necessary to just lurch into blurting it all out. Then again, maybe not. There is a large part of the web seemingly devoted to people publicly airing their own existential crises. Do you really want or need another rambling screed?

For some time now I have resolutely ignored the fact that I own a minuscule amount of digital real-estate in the form of a domain name and a WordPress account and that I must honour it with regular blurges of whatever thoughts are making their fleeting way across my mind. Nonetheless, it is nagging far too much so I have visited to make a digital deposit.

It is the third year of my degree, I have transferred university (what a good decision that has proved), had a few girlfriends, am settled with one, watch with slight wonder as my daughter morphs from a child to an adult and worry that it goes well for her.

Essentially, my hopes, fears, anxieties are just versions of those of everyone else. Getting older had taught me that no-one, and I mean no-one, is the unruffled, cool, calm and collected person they may appear to be. They may be far better than you at projecting an aura of confidence, but I guarantee you that they are feeling life’s pressures too.

I am writing more now and feel that I need a release valve as, although I like the general area, the subject material can be a little oppressive. It really is death and destruction and fringe radicals.

And no, this is not Ruskin I speak of but lone-actor terrorists.

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Unintended Consequences

Having spent the last eight weeks on the beginnings of socialist theory in a historical context I am suddenly see British Columbia in an entirely new light. Cos I am doing a degree, innit…which I suspect I’ll lever into most posts until the novelty has worn off.

I come back to BC every 12-18 months and it’s pretty much the same old same old. Now I notice nationalised – or do I mean provincialised? -functions where I am used to seeing privatised operators (in the UK). BC Hydro is the water company, BC Ferries are the ferry operator, BC Transit is the public transport company and so on and so forth. Over 50% of the population works for the government so this is the closest I have seen to the workers owning the means of production. Marx would be beaming.

Everyone seems fairly happy, few people are disgruntled. Perhaps this is just because the Brits are genetically programmed to moan about their lot and the Canadians are just simpler souls not prone to the introspective self-destruction and external envy that fuels British society. Class distinctions are completely absent here. Not suppressed, not there at all. People don’t judge you by the car you drive, the accent you speak with, where your kids go to school (there are so few private schools here they number under ten). Whatsmore, the have-nots don’t hate the haves. There is no class war, struggle of the workers against The Man, the assumption that all the rich are bastards that only got wealthy by screwing the poor.

All the usual ills of society are here. Drugs, homelessness, historical mistreatment of the indigenous population etc etc. In place of the Class War that the radicals in the UK are forever fighting (I doubt it will ever end) the biggest movement seems to be the environmental protesters. In a tiny little island like the UK I kind of get the worry about large infrastructure projects. Here you only need to drive for four or five hours to get an inkling of the absolute vastness of this one province out of ten. The country is extraordinarily large and is one of the biggest contiguous land masses in the world.  Yet the thought of driving an important pipeline across the province excites the most extraordinary levels of indignation. If anywhere has the land to afford this kind of necessary blight, it’s Canada. Necessary because we ain’t gonna be weaned off oil just like that. Especially here. The Canucks (and I daresay the Septics) think a pick-up truck that manages 25mpg is an engineering marvel. And they moan about petrol that is half the price than it is in the UK. In fairness though most of the distances, except in town, where the environmentalists seem to congregate, are not sensibly cycleable, especially in the winter. The car is here for a while yet.

Food. Food here is terrible by and large. Sweetened to death and with gargantuan portion sizes when eating out and buying. Quantity is considered a marker of value for money. Rarely is the conversation about the quality of the ingredients or cooking. Pile it high, sell it cheap, throw a shitload of high fructose corn syrup on for good measure and then puzzle over the obesity problem? It is considered de rigeur to bitch about the European Union and on many counts it is a gigantic waste of money. However, the directives on food labelling seem to produce more informative packaging for the consumer. Here the lobby groups for the big corporations seem to have won the day regarding what goes into “food” and how it is labelled. Alternatively, I might just be the nut with my obsession regarding what I buy to shove in my gaping maw. I like my bacon to be just that, bacon. Not some minced together turkey (god knows the conditions it was raised in – like the worst chicken farms I imagine) agglomeration that is so full of other stuff in order to look, cook and taste like a bacon rasher with lower fat – for that is how it is marketed, as a “healthy” alternative to bacon – than the real McCoy. Here is an idea…how about steer clear of regular bacon consumption and then when you do eat it enjoy it for what it is? Bacon. Food rant over. It is cheap (and sweet) so broadly speaking no one is moaning. Proper cheese? The Quebecois have a lot to answer for so lets leave it at that.

Just re-reading the last proves to me the basis of my stock reply when asked which is better, Canada or the UK? The grass is always greener. I think the magnificent outdoors would swing it for me if there were not other unchangeable factors keeping me in the UK. That and Hockey Night In Canada.

Who Are “The Left”?

I went to a very interesting discussion the other night. It was held at Ruskin College, where I start a history degree in September and there were some very interesting people there as well as ordinary members of the public like me. The topic was, “What Happened To The Working Class?” Apparently they didn’t disappear upon purchase of their council houses under The Great Handbag.

What really struck me was the strongly held belief amongst some of the, admittedly self selecting, audience about some sort of non-specific and ill-defined conspiracy against the Working Class/Left. Apparently PR firms are all and only engaged in the suppression of the Working Class. All PR firms. This doesn’t really tie with my first hand experiences of PR firms, but the individual that held this belief was adamant. There is a Right Wing conspiracy and PR firms exists to help make the evil more palatable. Then again; his solution for most of the ills of society, which are visited upon society by the evil capitalist Right Wing establishment, can be fixed if we were to all man-up (should that be person-up in a modern enlightened institution?) and revolt. Revolution is the cure, end of discussion.

As there wasn’t even agreement in the room as to what constituted the working class it was a rather pointless circular discussion IMHO. When the Marxist philosopher explained a Marxist definition as “those that don’t control the means of production”  as the definition there was further debate as that didn’t really do when you try and equate a surgeon with a dustman. There was a quiet discomfort at the suggestion, which made me wonder if this wasn’t a social and wealth based distinction as much as a technical one about who controls the means of production.

The Right don’t need to conspire and hide behind PR firms, they just need to sit back and keep their powder dry. The Left seem perfectly able at suppressing themselves by engaging in endless internal bickering and that makes a revolution very hard to organise.

Perhaps the right are just as bad? In fact, I am sure there are constituents of the Right that bicker endlessly over the minutiae.

Chuck the promise of influencing personal wealth, the ability to choose how to spend ones own resources, responsibility for your own decisions, low taxes, a light touch state into the mix and that sure focuses people’s minds enough to organise themselves into action. I think it’s called Capitalism. After all, the Soviet Union worked out well for the working classes, didn’t it?

The Centurion

So it’s my one hundredth post and I feel that I ought to go above and beyond to delight your eyes and tickle your neurons.  Am not sure if length compensates for quality, but here goes nothing…

This post will look back over the last year or so and may even cast an eye to the future. Mostly though it’s going to be a fun if slightly rambling ticklist of what has happened and what I have learned, about myself and others.

Let’s start with the big stuff then. On Boxing Day 2011 we took the very difficult decision to get divorced after fourteen years of marriage. Having eloped and gotten married three weeks after meeting I figured we had done pretty well considering. Our biggest surprise was at how shocked others were.   The one ginourmous issue was our daughter and making it ok for her. As we weren’t fighting terribly it wasn’t the down tools and storm out with loads of screaming and shouting scenario so we tried very hard to go about it like grown-ups and included H in almost all of the discussions and very patiently and carefully explained it all to her, because we felt it was much better to be open, honest and to be seen to be acting cooperatively rather than adversarially. So far she appears contented with the fact that we are happier not being married, which is better for her as well. I like the fact we do the odd meal and movie together as a family.

As an aside; I am baffled at how others could even consider using their kids as a weapon to wield against the other person. That is just inexcusable selfishness.  Despite our differences I know that L is a great Mum and is a thoroughly decent person. H knows we both love her, we live close to one another and she is always welcome at whatever house she chooses. She is approaching teenagedom so it’ll get more interesting I am sure. I was a ghastly know-it-all. Gulp.

Until the decision to divorce I had been a stay at home dad for the previous four years so essential to effect the divorce was for me to go back to work. It took a a few months but I landed a decent job as a – get this for a mouthful – Global Strategic Account Manager in the publishing industry. This started in June ’12. It was hard fought for but I won it and was given a decent salary. Result. Oh, and by the way, I was a publishing industry outsider which was the alleged reason why I was hired. Fresh eyes, new approach, we need to turn around a decline etc etc… Ha.

Paddy Wagon
Look Ma, no gears!

Having have had v. mild MS for the last 20 odd years I am fortunate enough to still be very physically able and am still a bit gullible when silly challenges are suggested. I agreed, with a mate, to enter a 24h, 240 mile (386km for you metric folks) cycle ride from London to Brussels. After all, who wouldn’t see this as a way of raising money for the local MS research team? Oh yeah, we decided to do it on single speed, fixed gear bicycles ‘cos who doesn’t like to up their game by making it a little harder? Uphill? Cowboy up cupcake and pedal harder. Downhill? Relax Grasshopper and spin.

Climbing took a back seat, as did other stuff and I upped my swimming for the cardiovascular benefits, got a proper bike fit and started entering events and training hard. I recall May 27th 2012 being a quite lovely morning. I woke early and as I had an hour or two before the day started proper I went for a ride to make this my first 200 mile week on my fixie. Wham, threw away banana skin (stop laughing) and unsettled myself so much I hit the floor. Hard enough to crush my helmet, shatter my right collarbone and snap my right femur just below the head. I have covered this before but 3 ambulances and 6h of surgery later I was not a well chappie.

Tecfidera Product Shot
Tecfidera (BG-12)

My other big MS news is to do with drugs. I have been on a two-year trial and am one year into the follow-up of an oral MS drug. It turns out that it is the hot new thing and had just been approved in the US (approval by the FDA is the big hurdle in drug development). Catchy name as well. Tecfidera just rolls off the tongue. Still, it’s better than Dimethyl Fumerate I suppose. Additionally, it beats the bejesus out of injecting daily. That was no fun carrying around all the paraphernalia.

Me and my beloved daughter

I got out of hospital after just a week (sheer bloody-mindedness is a powerful thing and being in hospital is really crap) and pushed very hard to start my great new job as it was all part of the “gain economic independence so we could get divorced” masterplan. I was v scared that it would all end in disaster but I didn’t really appreciate just how badly I had banged myself up. Life loves it’s little curve balls though and disaster duly struck! I lost the job after only 2.5 months. Pushed or made redundant? All I can remember is that it was a combination of circumstances, but I certainly didn’t help myself by being very drugged, to the point where I had started to perceive my perma-stoned state as normality. BEWARE long-term opiates. It is v insidious the way in which your reality is altered, firstly with big hits of pharmaceutical grade heroin – much needed roadside and post-operative relief – and then I was tapered onto seemingly harmless Co-codamol tabs. They worked magnificently well as pain control but whilst taking them I was a sleepwalker in my own life and it took quite a while for the after-effects to go. Knowing what I know now I’d go for the pain every time. On the bright side I made some interesting new friends.

2012-10-02 13.18.28
The Spitfire – loads of gears.

Another bike was required but with gears and somehow I came to own a Spin Spitfire, which is c 7.5 kg of titanium awesomeness.  A minor hitch is that after the big injuries have abated a bit the smaller niggly stuff is here. My right ankle is still so messed up and I can’t ride this thing of beauty. Still, with the shit winter we have had it is a blessing in disguise. If it had a bell it would sound like “Bllliiiinnnggggg Bllliiiinnnggggg” !

Freshly unemployed I was really feeling at a loss but also felt like I was at a significant juncture in my life, and shouldn’t waste it. On my bucket list has been to earn a degree. Not really to do something with, as that’s a bit late now, but just to do one. I know I am bright but it would be putting my money where my mouth is. Long story short I have been offered a place to read history at Ruskin  College in Oxford. I have been told that saying “Oxford” is tantamount to “passing off” and it isn’t part of the university proper, although  I’m not that bothered as it is better than going to an ex-poly. It is sort of kind of as there are interrelationships with some parts of “proper Oxford”. Most importantly is that I know I should do it and, short of being offered an awesome job (that is one that is better than just being well remunerated but is actually interesting, with interesting people), I shall.

A history degree from Ruskin. How cool is that? I don’t care if it is from one of the newest colleges. Besides, as an Oxford student an entire years swimming at the groovy Rosenblatt Pool is just £80. That alone is a great incentive.

pool
A great place to unwind.
2013-03-23 15.29.32
Thing of beauty.

The other bucket-list item I ticked off was getting a 911. It is not as whimsical as it sounds as it has been the only car that has captured my attention ever since I was a kid and, without being too melodramatic, I reckon the MS will get me at some point so before I toddle off to Switzerland I need to know I have had one, once. So I decided to get a decent one that had been well loved and wasn’t going to do its brains in depreciation. It costs less to insure than the massive estate car (station wagon for you dang foreigners) I was driving around in. It requires a steady diet of premium petrol (that’s gas for you dang…) and tyres so I expect to be buying shares in the oil & rubber companies to mitigate the expense.

Who knows what the future holds. I have a good feeling though as I think all sorts of previously unforeseen avenues will show themselves. I am grateful to be here and happy and surprised at the way things seem to be turning out for the better. However, before I get too contented I must never forget that life is a cruel mistress and is probably just waiting for the right moment to bugger things up again.

If there is a lesson then it is only for me, as it smacks of a kind of arrogance to start telling others what to do just because that’s what worked for you. However, it seems to be the formula for many a lucrative line in self-help books so perhaps I am missing out.

My only advice would be the following; Illegitimi non Carborundum which translates as Don’t Let The Bastards Grind You Down.