Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Lighter Side of Spam


Opened my email this morning and this plopped into my mailbox …

From: Neateye []
Sent: 30 June 2005 05:17
To: StefZ
Subject: Gouranga

Call out Gouranga be happy!!!
Gouranga Gouranga Gouranga ....
That which brings the highest happiness!!

A quick Google search later and I found this link here.

Given that I’ve been a bit grumpy lately and I was in the room on my own, I thought ‘Why not? There’s no harm is there?’ …

I called out ‘Gouranga! Gouranga! Gouranga!’ very loudly indeed; on the basis that louder would presumably mean happier.

My next door neighbours’ dog started barking.

And then, I thought how stupid the dog must think I am, and started laughing.

So, it works then.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005



A friend just wrote to me asking why I have, yet again, stopped blogging.

Have I finally got round to starting that novel?


Have I gone back to work?


It’s the same reason as usual. I’m hacked off with the same old things and don’t like repeating myself. A record needle stuck in the same old groove, going round and around and around.

Like some demented student activist, I’m blind to what I see as trivial and am hacked off that people aren’t as angry as I am.

And, as I’ve said before, therein lies the path to becoming a really boring tit.

Having said all that, I’m not totally closed to the trivial and the bizarrely irrelevant. Just a little more resistant than usual. That’s all

And what am I angry about? The obvious stuff; The War in Iraq, The ‘War’ on ‘Terror’, erosion of civil liberties, political deceit and corruption and the all embracing sense of apathy that blankets this land.

Thank You Tony.

America seems to be in the grip of the same disease.

And, worst of all, with the exception of a few US-based Internet loonies, nobody seems really angry about all this stuff.

The majority of people are apparently blind to just how sh*t life in this country has become and the wickedness that has been done over the last few years – they are told sh*t, live like sh*t, buy sh*t, watch sh*t and eat sh*t. They are blind to all of this because, we are told, the economy is strong and people are feeling prosperous.

How can you feel prosperous doing insecure, sh*t jobs and sitting on a pile of personal debt the size of Everest?

I live in a country managed by a government that includes ministers for "Anti-Social Behaviour, Community Safety and Active Citizenship" and Gambling, populated by people working in superstores selling Chinese made goods, fining each other or sitting at PCs, all waiting for the inevitable reckoning.

The cloud of bullshit that has settled on British daily life is palpable.

My personal transition is complete. I have become, not a butterfly, but a fully blown misanthrope. Aside from wondering how best to fill the time between the present and my eventual demise, I have given up on my fellow creatures. By and large, they’re thick as pigshit and eat, bleat and trot off for shearing or slaughter when they’re told to.


I went out for a beer with an old work chum a little while ago. He’s currently the man in charge of Corporate Responsibility in his company, a hot new topic in the world of British Business. Corporate Responsibility is all about monitoring and reporting a company’s ethical and environmental behaviour. Amongst many other interesting tasks, my friend’s responsibilities include estimating the waste outputs of the Head Office building; including solid refuse and anything that goes into the drains.

My friend works in the City and earns a fair chunk of money accounting for piss.

He’s not actually doing anything to stem the flow of piss out of his Corporate HQ. He’s just assessing the volume generated.

Call me old-fashioned but it’s hard to conceive of a nation maintaining its' standard of living and global competitiveness by monitoring its' own urine.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The lone gunman test

One of the most amusing things going on in the media, when I returned from a self-imposed ten day news blackout last week, was the Bob Geldof versus Ebay story.

Apparently, Bob was really ticked-off that people were reselling tickets to his charity rock concert on Ebay.

Yes sirreeee, there’s nothing more amusing than seeing a pompous public figure stretched to the limits of his mental capacity openly in the public eye.

Bob had already got his money for the tickets. No one was depriving him of any income. The simple truth was that more people wanted to see the concerts than the available number of tickets.

And so, inevitably, the street price rose.

This happens with all oversubscribed events, from a Britney Spears Gig to Wimbledon. So why should Bob think the response to the Live 8 Gigs should be any different?

Because he thinks he’s a fucking saint. That’s why.

And he’s bang out of line for thinking so.

Exploitative multinational organisations and oppressive governments just fucking love charity rock concerts.

In fact, the likes of Geldof, Bono and all the rest of those sanctimonious millionaire pricks, demonstrating their saintly virtue in public, actually support the goals of multinational organisations and oppressive governments.

They’re all part of the same syndrome – confusing and misdirecting those who could otherwise oppose the wickedness in our world by brainwashing them with a pile of shit.

Worried about the environment? Sort out your rubbish for ‘recycling’ (ho ho) in China. Concerned about global poverty? Buy a crappy little bracelet mass-produced in a 3rd world sweatshop. Do something! Do anything! Just make sure it’s nothing that will ever change anything.

Sadly, every person like me who wants to vomit whenever Saints Bono or Geldof preach on TV is outnumbered tenfold by people who think that entering a cellphone-based lottery for concert tickets is going to make the world a better place

How can I demonstrate that what I’m saying is so?


Ask yourself one simple question.

Can you name one leading public figure who represents such a threat to the governing elite that they run a risk of being killed?

A car or a plane crash. A mysterious lone gunman. You know the deal.

The 1960s were full of them. By 1968 it was getting to a point where civil rights spokespeople had survival rates comparable with Kamikaze pilots.

And in the 21st century?


I call it the lone gunman test. And with the exception of a handful of relatively lightweight players; George Galloway in the UK and the likes of the late Senator Paul Wellstone in the US (coincidentally replaced by Norm Coleman who went on to be made to look a fool by Galloway), no-one currently passes it.

Princess Diana probably did pass the lone gunman test but for the wrong reasons. It’s unlikely anyone wanted her bumped-off for her feeble anti-landmine campaign and much more likely she was on a shit list for other, less socially aware, reasons.

Anyway, no one’s going to point a rifle at Bono, Bob Geldof or anyone who works for Greenpeace for political reasons. They don’t need to. This is partly due to the fact that the media is now well and truly bought and paid for, but mostly due to the fact that these people represent absolutely no threat to the ghastly future that is planned for us all.

Actually, they’re performing a valuable service by persuading the gullible saps out there that they’re doing their bit by listening to a rock concert. Or buying a particular brand of coffee, 'environmentally friendly' toilet cleaner, or unnecessary cosmetic in a reusable tub. In fact, many of our self-proclaimed spokespeople for morality earn a tidy living advertising particular brands of coffee or lavatory cleaner, or MP3 players.

As if picking-out particular products on sale in a supermarket, in preference to other products on sale in a supermarket, is ever going to change the world by one little bit.

There are absolutely no 'dangerous' people out there whatsoever and, collectively, we’re all in a world of shit.

We deserve what’s going to happen to us.

And today's displacement activities were ...

Got wood

The things I did today under the grip of a subconscious drive not to focus on being productive …

  1. Looking at pictures of burned toast that looked like Michael Jackson
  2. Bidding on pictures of burned toast that looked like Michael Jackson
  3. Saying really vicious things about other people’s pictures in the supercritical deleteme group on Flickr
  4. Having really vicious things said about some of my pictures in the supercritical deleteme group on Flick. Nowhere near as much fun.
  5. Being quite impressed by one person’s galleries that I happened upon through the deleteme group
  6. Searching for Etruscan-era porn on Google. Given the sheer volume of the stuff I saw when we were actually in Etruria the amount available on the web is actually pretty disappointing.

If my hunger for displacement carries on at this rate I’ll be reading rubbish sci-fi novels and become madly interested in televised snooker, just like when I was studying for my finals. Only that was almost twenty years ago and I had most of my life ahead of me. Plus, Isaac Asimov is dead now (isn't he?)

Alternatively, I could always start writing that feckin’ book …

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Cave Diem e Carpe Canem

My First Novel

Well, we’ve been back from holiday for a few days now and I’ve promised Tracy, and myself, that I’ll focus on writing something worth publishing or else give up and think about something new to do for a living.

Oh hum…

It’s not easy you know. Though the fact that writing fiction doesn’t come easy to me isn’t a valid impediment. Look at Dan Brown. He’s doing well.

Nope. My malaise is worse than that. The problem is that I seriously don’t give a f*ck about pretty much anything. Certainly anything that could be classed as work.

It’s possible that I’m suffering from a touch of depression. It certainly runs in both sides of the family. But, in all honesty, I don’t think it’s a brain chemistry thing holding me back. My current state of mind is more reasoned than that. Going on holiday and spending time looking at archaeological sites didn’t help much either.

A few days ago we were in Italy, plonking around a place called Tarquinia. Tarquinia was once a major Etruscan town. The Etruscans are a funny lot. They looked like Romans, dressed like Romans, built Roman-like buildings. But they were not Roman. Far from it. Unfortunately for the Etruscans, a quirk of history put the Romans ahead and the Etruscans, and their culture, were assimilated to such an extent that we actually now know very little about them.

Anyway, we were in Tarquinia staring at inscribed coffin lids in the town museum and I recall reading one that said something like ‘Here lie the physical remains of Council Official Maximus Superbus. The seventh generation of his family to hold high office. He was great’.

… and I rememberl thinking ‘So f*cking what. You’re brown bread now aren’t you mate’

Not an original thought on my part admittedly but, neverthless, 2,500 years of separation does clarify perspective immensely.

One major plus point for the Etruscans was their fondness for explicitly pornographic pottery. The town museum was full of it, though, sadly, cameras were forbidden. It’s good that so much of this material has survived; offering, as it does, priceless insights into Etruscan daily life.

So, through one of those happy accidents of history, we do not know where Etruscan civilisation originated from but we do know that they liked doing it doggie style; boy on girl, boy on boy, to the exclusion of almost all other positions.

I couldn’t help wondering about the practicality of vase-based pornography though. You can’t hide that many under wardrobe and taking more than a couple of pint-sized dirty pots to bed with you just doesn’t seem all that viable.

Anyway, a few days before Tarquinia we were at a place called Saepinum …


Saepinum is a truly fascinating place I’ve been meaning to visit for years. It’s a Roman town that was never truly abandoned and not built-over or totally cannibalised for its' stone. The population just dwindled over the years until only a few farms remained on the site. And that’s how it has stayed to the present day. There’s a totally unique and surreal quality to the site. Medieval and more recent farm buildings are seamlessly built into, and using chunks of, older Roman buildings.

Usually, whenever I visit an ancient site, like the Colosseum or an Egyptian temple I always end up thinking about the last person who worked in the place before it went to ruin. Did he lock the doors on the last day. Was there a marked transition between ‘Open for Business’ and ‘Knackered’? In Saepinum there are no such questions. Things just got a little slack over the course of fifteen hundred years. That’s all. Animals and tractors wander around the old town forum and along the still-preserved, but overgrown, roads. There’s a continuity of history and integration with nature that’s total unique in my experience.

And, aside from the locals, we had the place pretty much to ourselves for the morning.

So, there I was, standing in what was clearly the fashionable end of town back in 320AD and watching a couple of sheep grazing in what was once a rich Roman’s courtyard. Some of the original, elaborate and expensive mosaic work had recently been uncovered. And I remember thinking that a) somebody must have taken a really severe hit on the property purchase price at some point and b) …

‘So f*cking what. You’re brown bread now aren’t you mate’

There’s a pattern forming here isn’t there? And I’m not even going to write about the evening I spent trying vainly not to stand on any of the busy ants crawling around our campsite and the parallels I drew with human society.

We’ve all had thoughts like this in our time but we shove them to the back of our heads. It’s a trick we have to play. Those of us who can’t play that trick run the risk of being labelled depressives. And, no, I’m not referring to the self-indulgent ‘why can’t I have what I want. I want my mummy’ depression that blights so many people’s lives. I’m talking about the darker, deeper strain, that comes from far too much contemplation of the sheer expanse of time and space, and eternity.

But, hey, f*ck that as well. If nothing really matters and if all that we do turns to dust then there’s no point in worrying about it is there?

My own suspicion is that there IS a point to things but that point (repeats himself for the umpteenth time) lies in how we behave whilst we are here rather than our material achievements. Having said that, finding a role in life that is purposeful and worthwhile is bloody difficult these days. That’s not how our system works. For very hard-nosed reasons, the bulk of us are not permitted that kind of fulfillment. Sadly, people sitting at VDUs doing bollocks and the Dark Overlords who rule them shall inherit the Earth and a pretty crap Earth it will turn out to be.

Monday, June 20, 2005


Suspicious Incident

The first day after we got back from holiday, Tracy had a crappy day at the office and wanted nothing more than to get back home, eat some comfort food and tell me about her crappy day at the office.

Unfortunately, there was the small wee issue that our street had been cordoned off by the police.

A pair of auxiliary constables had chased a mugger into the street. He whipped out a gun and forced his way into a neighbour’s house.


The auxiliary police cordoned-off the street until the real police came. With body armour. And dogs. And guns of their own. Big Ones.

Tapping away on my PC I was blissfully unaware of all of this until Tracy telephoned me to say that she standing at the end of the street surrounded by police and that she couldn’t come home. She also warned me that if I left the house I would be escorted to the cordon and wouldn’t be allowed to return home either.

She was allowed home much later in the evening, after a three or four-hour wait, and with a police escort.

It wasn’t a complete washout for herself though, as she was entertained by all sorts of street theatre. Including…

Conversation #1

Kid: Let me past. I want to buy some chips

Policeman: There’s a man with a gun hiding in the street

Kid: I’ll walk on the other side of the road

Policeman: Aren’t there some other chip shops you can go to?

Kid: It’s only a gun

Policeman: Go away. Now

Conversation #2

Woman: Let me past. I want to buy a pint of milk

Policeman: There’s a man with a gun hiding in the street

Woman: I don’t care. I want some milk

Policeman: No. Go away. Now.

Similar conversations occurred literally dozens of times that night. On top of all sorts of other daft public behaviour; seemingly designed to simultaneously piss the police off and maybe catch a bullet in the process.

God Bless the common sense of the London Public.

After her rebuttal from the constabulary, the woman in conversation #2 proceeded to moan loudly to those fellow civilians who rated milk purchases below their personal safety…

Woman: I’ve been here for 66 years and I’ve seen everything. I’ve seen worse than this

Grizzled Man looking like an aged roadie: I bet I've seen worse than you

Woman: Like what?

Man: One time I was playing Long Tall Sally in a band in Germany and a bloke was stabbed eight times in front of me. My manager told me to keep playing so I did

Woman (looking confused): I would have stopped playing

Man: No point. He died almost instantly

Woman: Oh

Man: Another time this bloke held a revolver to my head and pulled the trigger. It misfired

Woman: Oh

Woman walks off. Quieter than before.

The guy was patently talking sh*t, which makes him even more of a hero in my book. I know he was talking sh*t because, after Tracy engaged him in conversation, he told her how the Oval Cricket ground was built on the site of the original Roman London Colosseum. Nice one.

He then told her a little of the history of nearby Kennington Park and how it has long been a traditional gathering point for people fighting for working people’s rights, stretching back hundreds of years. Unlike the Colosseum story, this is true which marks the man as a Bullshit Jedi, capable of blending fact and fiction seamlessly and with no visible effort. Sadly, Tracy didn’t find out where he lived which is a shame as we’re short of neighbours who are both interesting and yet non-threatening.

Strange days here in the UK, and especially London. The statistics for burglary are now so low that the average person will be burgled only once every 50 years and the average value of goods stolen is just under £500. By that measure crime has fallen.

However, at the same time, record numbers of people are trotting around parts of London, mine included, brandishing knives and firearms and re-enacting scenes from their favourite spaghetti westerns.

And it’s getting worse by the month. It’s all very confusing. I know governments and newspapers like to play up fear of crime and other fears as a means of manipulation and control. But I can also see that there are genuine issues to be really scared of – spending the better part of the day behind some yellow tape, watching armed men march up and down your street will do that to a person

Bottom line? Property Crime is probably falling here in London but Vice and Organised Crime are growing from strength to strength. Organisations demand territory and territory must be protected, with guns…

Another though just came to mind … one burglary every 50 years. £500 of goods stolen … so how come house contents insurance isn’t something like £10 a year rather than £200-600 a year? Just a thought ...

Cats (again)


Flipping through the sequence of thoughts currently queued in my head, it seems the first happy thought is about seventh in the queue. Which doesn’t bode well for any depressives stumbling across my blog over the next few days.

So, I thought I’d post a picture of a couple of cats I toook in Italy last week just to lighten things up a little. There it is, at the top of the post.

Also, on the subject of things feline, Vanessa and Noel have finally got Tubbs accepted as a contestant in Kitten War. Go Tubbs Go.

though she’s not exactly a kitten though any more, is she, guys.

What else is there on hand to take the edge off the torrent of negativity that’s undoubtedly about to flow through my finger tips …

Oh yes, there’s this thread started by a lonely heart in a cycling forum that’s been doing the rounds lately – the first 25 posts or so are just marvellous in their sheer profane dementedness. I know I shouldn’t have laughed. But I did.

Friday, June 17, 2005


Etruscan Tomb


Back from a few days in Italy.

The keyboard seems alien and strange. Every word I type contains a typo.

After a couple of weeks staying on Italian campsites I have similar problems with toilet seats and shower units. The joy of not taking a loose roll of toilet paper and a shower token into the bathroom with me, now that I’m back home, still hasn’t worn off.

I’ve just finished working through the bulk of the photos I took on the trip. Not exactly brilliant but not exactly bad either, their quality was limited by several factors; the so-so weather, the relatively small number of people around the places we visited (otherwise a good thing) and my reluctance to photograph the numerous old crones on offer for fear of a lynching or, more likely, a bill.

One thought that did dawn on me whilst looking at my pictures, that didn’t occur to me at the time, was just how much of our holiday was occupied with the affairs of the dead rather than the living; Roman Cities, an Etruscan necropolis, battlefield sites and war cemeteries. That’s a result of my own interests and a bit hard on Tracy sometimes. On several occasions we drove down from the mountains to the seaside so she could get a little sunbathing in. But we’re both motion junkies and we always found ourselves back in the hire car after only a few hours.

All this flitting between overdeveloped out-of-season seaside resorts and historical sites started to take its toll. One day, after visiting the war cemeteries and monastery at Monte Cassino, we drove down to the coast and found ourselves walking along a deserted beach past row after row of neatly arranged beach umbrellas. I kept mentally flipping back between the rows of crosses we had seen in the cemeteries earlier that day and mixing the imagery up with the beach scene. Row after row of pale blue crosses on the beach, shivering in the evening breeze. Line after line of stone umbrellas laid out in a godforsaken field somewhere.

One for Photoshop maybe.

Anyway, the death theme continued on my return home. A friend had sent me a link to a photo on Flickr of a coffin decorated in the style of a West Ham United football club strip. This is totally in keeping with East End traditions where we’ve seen headstones shaped liked dartboards and wreaths made up to look like bottles of cider and cans of strong lager.

Having just visited a series of 2,500 year old Etruscan tombs filled with day to day artefacts and paintings of people enjoying their daily lives, this all sent my head spinning. The continuity of the human experience is so strong. West Ham in 2005, Etruria in 500BC or even Egypt in 2,500BC, there really ain’t that much difference.

Yes, there is a very strong possibility that people will be staring at coffins dressed up as football players in museums five hundred years in the future.

Then my head span some more. Following on from some thoughts I had before my holiday concerning the celebration of the dead as consumers and the pervasive belief that he who dies with the most toys wins, I couldn’t help thinking that football strips could be just the start of something much larger.

It seems to me that an ever-increasing number of people seem to be seeking a sense of self-worth and purpose through the purchase and ostentatious display of mass-produced, iconic consumer items and their associated accessories. So…

How about introduction of the iCoffin? Come on. It virtually designs itself. We can all picture one with out any great effort. How cool would that be?

Then the Sony Death Station, the Nike Air Coffin and then maybe we could get the car manufacturers interested too – Four by Four, redemption injected models, with a flash red stripe down the side.

And, of course, Tesco’s would have to do Value Range and Be Nice To Yourself In The Afterlife models as well.

I really am going to have to fire-up my copy of Photoshop.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Off the air for a bit now ...


No blogs from me for the next ten days or so. Hopefully the Internet will survive somehow. I probably should punctuate the forthcoming gap with something profound at the both ends. Only I can't think of anything.

Anyway, back in a week and bit, God willing …

Friday, June 03, 2005

Things that have made me laugh over the last day or two

Portable Tree, Pimlico

Something that made me laugh in a kind of nervous, worried sort of way #1

The Portable Disciplinary Mat

A tool that can assist in TEACHING CHILDREN TO SHARE

Something that made me laugh in a kind of nervous, worried sort of way #2

A gallery of pictures taken at a 60th anniversary re-enactment of the battle of Iwo Jima. Flamethrowers and all. Though it’s not immediately clear how the flacid, tubby office workers playing at soldiers decided who was going to stand in for the Japanese being roasted in the caves.

So few people are signing up for the real US military at the moment that someone in the Pentagon with a sense of humour might get round to drafting these guys into a real war. Now that would be funny.

Top comment from Noel on that particular album

"As you all know our next "outing" will be a faithful re enactment of our brave boys of Charlie Company at My Lai. So I want every one to bring along their families so they can join in"

I wonder if lonely sadsters will be re-enacting the current fighting in Iraq in 60 years time. Probably not.

Something that made me laugh at the the sheer scale of a human life wasted

A picture of Venice drawn in MS Paint, yes the one that comes free with Windows, that took 500 hours to complete.

Something that made me laugh because it was very silly

Something that made me laugh because it looks like a penis

Actually, several things made me laugh because they look like a penis.

and other things that I’m not at liberty to share right now

Something that made me laugh because it was cute
Actually, she (‘peppermintrock’) is quite an amusing photographer. I’m particularly taken by her series of pictures of her doll ‘Blythe’.

which in turn led me onto discovering about an entire subculture, that I was previously completely unaware of,
devoted to Blythe worship.

oh, and there was
Toast in the Post as well. That was quite funny. And there was the story that Tower Bridge was stuck open for the better part of the day. That was funny because it’s 113 years old and it jammed due to a, wait for it, ‘software error’. I just wish we could dig up some Victorians, reanimate them and get them to fix everything so that it works properly for a change. The 21st century is just so bloody useless …

That was about it for the last 24 hours or so. Gosh, my chuckle bones sure have had a mighty workout. Maybe it’s time to get a job now instead of taking pictures of stupid things like portable trees on the streets of London and surfing Japanese websites all day.

Nah. Sod that.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Rituals pt2

Aside from the brutal mechanics of the cremation last week, another aspect of the service left me in deeper than usual thought these last few days...

The speeches.

First off, I don’t want anyone who knew the person being cremated who reads this, and wasn’t there, to think the service went at all badly. It went well, as far as you can describe any funeral as going well.

The first person to speak was a priest. He said the right kind of things. He offered no theological explanation for the sense in someone dying so young. How could he? He might have chosen to say something like ‘Life doesn’t make any sense so why should Death?’ but chose instead to deliver a not entirely dissimilar message in a more diplomatic way. He then moved on and encouraged the people present to celebrate a life and to reflect on what that person meant to them.

Then a family member continued with the same theme and gave a short biography, peppered with childhood memories and anecdotes.

These two speeches set theme for the service and are the ones that stick in the memory. Which was just as well, given what followed.

The third person to speak was someone called Cheryl. Cheryl is a manager in a City bank. She was recently deprived of the use of one particular hard-working, conscientious member of staff. Cheryl was clearly in denial, as she proceeded to spend ten minutes giving what sounded very much like an annual staff appraisal of the deceased to the assembled crowd of mourners.

In that ten minutes we established that Cheryl was responsible for one of the most effective departments in her bank, even though she was short of capable staff. We were also treated to every single job title the deceased had ever had and a description of what those jobs involved, including all the relevant banking jargon. Apparently the deceased was very effective at clearing backlogs of ‘breaks’. Whatever the fuck breaks are.

As Cheryl’s all-encompassing awfulness unfolded before us, Tracy could see the blood rushing to my face. She gripped me by the wrist. The look on her face said it all, ‘Please don’t attack the spiritually dead psycho career bitch at my friend’s cremation. Please’.

Of course I wasn’t about the make a scene but I did flip out for a minute or two and started fantasising about being an Archangel, clapping my hands together with a thunderous roar and transforming Cheryl into a pillar of salt.

and then sprinkling her onto my fish and chips

Maybe next time Cheryl. I’ve got your card well and truly marked you sad, insecure, lonely and pathetic creature.

The really sad thing is that I live in a city, maybe a country, populated by hundreds of thousands of Cheryls and I want out. Desperately.

The fourth person to speak was another family member. Unlike the previous three speakers, including the priest, she chose to focus discussion on how great everything will be when we all rise up together in the next life.

Looking around, there didn’t seem to be many takers for that one.

Well, at least no-one giggled openly when the prospect of an afterlife was mentioned. I’ve seen that a couple of times before.

Yup, we’re all far too enlightened to believe in such things as Creator or a soul these days. We’re just flesh machines built to replicate DNA and worth no more than insects or bacteria. What was that service all about anyway? Just a dumb, instinctive ritual. All the ant-like humans getting together to dance around a fallen friend for a bit, then carrying on with their ant-like activities as if nothing had happened.

Actually I, for one, am more than willing to accept the possibility of God and even such a thing as an immortal soul. I see evidence of planning and purpose, consistent with Intelligent Design, in the World around me every day. The problem is that society essentially presents us with just two stark and mutually exclusive choices:

1. No point to anything at all when you get down to it

2. Obey men in silly hats

Neither of which rings true. Unfortunately, there’s really very little else on the table.

The possibility that both schools of thought might be equally wrong is never seriously discussed.

New Items for Stef’s To Do List: 1. Formulate new religion that makes sense to sane people without recourse to indoctrination or concepts such as faith 2. Make money out of it.

Aside from the truly appalling Cheryl and the reference to a Mickey Mouse afterlife, there was another faux pas that didn’t settle well with me. This was more subtle than the other two and probably passed unnoticed by the rest of the mourners. I’m guessing that Cheryl certainly didn’t pick up on it...

All the speakers kept going on about what nice holidays the deceased had.

One of the speakers even mentioned that she had quite a large CD collection.

Now I could be accused of being picky on this one. After all, their intention clearly was to demonstrate that our dead friend had enjoyed her life fully. But it didn’t work for me. How would I feel if I could tune into my own funeral and heard someone saying something like...

‘Stef had a good life. He died the proud owner of a nice car and a couple of Ipods. And let’s not forget that he had a cracking breakfast the day he died. The management team at Canon Cameras would like to send their heartfelt commiserations’

Mmmmm, tributes to the dead as great consumers …

Forget the dead for the moment. Is that how we measure our lives whilst we are still breathing? Do we really believe that someone who has travelled around a bit and bought some shit is living a more worthwhile life than someone who has never left their home town and never bought an MP3 player?

Actually, I think most of us really have been moulded into believing that.

Take my brother. He’s jealous of me because I’ve visited a few places in my life whilst he’s worked behind the counter of a sandwich bar for all of his life. I’m jealous of him because he has a beautiful, healthy little girl. Mind you, he is broke though.

I came away from the service thinking, once again, that I really should find a way to strap everyone into a chair, administer drugs and force them to watch It’s a Wonderful Life five or six hundred times…

Just to recap. He who dies with the most toys doesn’t necessarily win and a person’s material happiness is no measure that their life was worth living. Our only concern should be did that person have a decent, gentle soul and was it worth knowing them whilst they were here?

In the case of the person we said goodbye to last week the answer is a simple yes.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Rituals pt1

Kensal Green

I’ve sat down several times over the last few days with the intention of writing a blog posting.

Every time I tried I ended up surfing Flickr or engaging in some other displacement activity instead. The problem is that my thoughts are stuck on the cremation I attended last week and I’m reluctant, uncharacteristically, to write down anything that might appear disrespectful or in some way tasteless.

Disrespect is the furthest thing from my mind

I’ve never attended a cremation before. Absolutely all of my dead relatives are interned somewhere. There’s a vault in Italy where I can visit three generations of my Mum’s family, all stacked neatly one above the other in a wall. And, in case anyone has trouble remembering what they looked like, there are pictures as well. The wall filled up in the days when the village was remote, people didn’t travel much and everyone was related to each other in about five or six different ways. Times change though, the family is scattered, they marry each other less and I guess my Mum’s will be the last generation to be slotted into that wall; physically intact and near to family

There’s also the wee small matter that it’s now almost full and none of us have the heart to turf out my great uncle and his wife, even though they’re squatting. But that’s another story.

Anyway, I’m accustomed to watching dead people I know being buried as intact as the circumstances of their demise allow. To the uninitiated, the concept of slotting family members; parents and children, brothers and sisters, into a photo-indexed, concrete filing cabinet may seem bizarre but that’s what I’m used to.

And that’s why I shuddered, even more than usual in the circumstances, last week when the curtain was drawn around the coffin and the cremation began.

I prefer the old-fashioned Italian way. It seems more organic, less industrial.

I know I’m being illogical. There will come a time, when no one is left to care for them, when all the remains in the family vault will be cleared out and tossed into an ossary somewhere. Nothing in life, or death, is permanent. Not even a grave.

A close friend of my parents died just before Christmas and is buried in his family plot in Italy. Just before the coffin was cemented in, a couple of holes were drilled into the coffin's seal at the request of the cemetery caretaker. The cemetery is dangerously close to having to set-up a waiting list and they’re thinking about clearing occupants out after less than 20 years now. That went down a storm with the widow.

‘Here lies Joe Soap. Resting in peace until Judgement Day or when we need the space. Whichever comes sooner’.

So, yes, I’ll be the first to admit that my antipathy towards cremation is illogical. It’s just one of those cultural things. Whether we believe the literal word of the Bible or not many of us, the Christians anyway, have been bathed in a culture that historically supported the notion of bodily resurrection.

Like how is that going to work anyway? Does that mean, in the long run, that it’s better to die young and fit than old and frail? Are we really to be bound by our physical limitations in the afterlife? Do tattoos last for eternity? Do they have lavatories in Heaven?

Sorry, I really don’t think so. Whether you’re a believer or a disbeliever, a body is no more than a machine. A dead body is broken machine. Broken beyond all hope of repair. Broken machines are discarded.

A group of people was waiting outside as we filed out of the chapel. They were Indian and next in line. Behind us, attendants were wheeling the chapel's mobile crucifix out of sight and taking Fields of Gold off the tape machine. I guess they must have some sitar music in their collection somewhere.

The men in Indian burial party contrasted very strongly with our group. We were all dressed in dark suits. They were decked out in brown nylon slacks and tatty polo shirts.

They also seemed slightly more casual about the whole thing. Not disrespectful, just less obviously upset. I could be way out of line here but I got the distinct impression that their attitude was more along the lines of ‘It’s only meat. Let’s burn the body then back home for bhajis’.

As I said, not disrespectful, just more pragmatic.