Stamped out….

When I was a kid in the 1960s – even through my teenage years – one of the things that often seemed to start getting publicised at this time of year was the charitable stamp collection.

The idea was that you’d be asked to save the stamps that came your way on letters, cards, parcels, etc. and send them to a collection point whereupon they’d be used in some way for charity fund raising.  I think the programme ‘Blue Peter’ did it, but I might be wrong.  I never worked out how money was made; I doubt very much that they went through the stamps to see if there was a rare ‘Inverted Queen’s Head First Class’ or whatever the valuable stamps of the day were.

Being an occasional stamp collector myself (I still have the albums and a large box of first day covers, etc. sitting in a box here at Pritchard Towers – burglars note, nothing worthy of stealing) I would actually go through the letters and cards that came my way and get anything unusual for my own collection.  This was particularly the case in my teens, by which time I was getting letters and cards from overseas as a result of my interest in short wave listening and amateur radio.

I seem to remember the collections still being made when I’d entered the workforce and through the 80s and early 1990s, but I don’t recollect the collections being made from the mid-1990s onwards.  I guess that a combination of cheaper overseas phone calls, faxes and then email basically stopped the need for there being large numbers of bits of ‘snail mail’ – and also franking became available to more and more smaller companies, so that even where letters WERE sent they often came with franked postage rather than stamps.

I guess that it’s one of the interesting ‘spin off’ effects of the advances in communications technology that came particularly with email.  These days, any ‘snail mail’ that comes with stamps on is usually from family members who don’t have access to the office franking machine.  When a non-franked letter arrives these days with unknown writing – or even better, a typed address – it really is something to be pondered on.  It’s occasionally spam mail, but sometimes it’s a letter from someone who prefers to use snail mail – this time of the year usually gives us a particularly good haul of letters and cards from family and friends that we’ve lost touch with a little.

I’m beginning to wonder whether I should try and write a few letters to people, and pop them in an envelope with a stamp on, before the whole concept of ‘snail mail’ disappears forever.  Maybe ‘slow mail’ , where we take care with the preparation of the letter and even submit it to a delivery process that takes days to reach the destination – might become a way of communicating that shows you care a little more than just whizzing off an email or a text message.

 

Gutterdamerung….

This morning at Pritchard Towers, I’d just sat down to breakfast in the smaller dining-room, and Jeeves was just bringing the starter course of three scrambled Ostrich eggs when there was a thunderous knock at the tradesman’s entrance, to which Jeeves noticeably grimaced…

OK – I was half way through a chicken mayonnaise sandwich (Mayo expires today, waste not, want not) when there was a hammering at the front door.  I spotted a red van outside so I thought that it was a postal delivery.  On opening the door I was confronted by one of the most fearsome sights that a householder can behold – a doorstep salesman waving leaflets and asking “Are you the householder?”  For the sake of this blog post I’ll refer to him as Gary.

I toyed with the idea of answering ‘No, I’m Jeeves the butler’ but foolishly answered ‘Yes’.  Gary gestured heavenward, but rather than saying ‘Are you saved by the love of Jesus Christ?’ he said Gutters – have you thought of having them replaced?”

“Not really. I know they need it but can’t afford it. Thanks.”

“Well, we do uPVC,.”

“Yes, I understand what you’re saying but we can’t afford it.”

“But your neighbours have gutters like we sell.”

“We don’t have the money. We can’t afford it.”

“What if we could bring the price down.”

“We don’t have the money. Doesn’t matter how cheap your stuff is. We don’t have any spare money right now. It’s all spoken for. We don’t have the  money. OK?”

At this point I could see that my words had sunk in and he looked a little crestfallen.

“So, not interested?”

“That’s right, not interested.”

And he went on his way, back to his little red van.

I was enormously pleased at this point. I was about to consider whether attempting to explain using progressive dance might work.  Alternatively, I could have just grabbed a Bible and my cassock and yelled ‘Brother, are YOU saved by the blood of your saviour, Jesus Christ? Let me pray with you, bother! Fall to your knees in supplication before our Lord…’  But I would be worried that he might genuinely be seeking spiritual enlightenment…

I assume he drives around the streets of Sheffield doing ‘drive by assessments’ of gutters. Ours are really easy to asses. They’re about 40 years old with plants in some parts.  If there is such a thing as a ‘Gutter Spotters Guide’ then we’re in the section of ‘Antique and decaying’.

Our gutters lover the front door when there is a shower; when there is heavy rain it’s a veritable waterfall. There are whole civilizations of waterborne life that depend upon our leaky gutters for their existence. I’m not sure that I want ecocide on my conscience.

On a serious note, I would have hoped that saying ‘I’ve no money to pay you’ would have rung alarm bells in even the most inept salesman’s mind.  Maybe over the years ‘I can’t afford it’ was a genuinely easy excuse to attempt to force the price down.  But I think that the world is very different today; if there is no spare money, and no ACCESS to spare money, ‘I can’t afford it’ is simply a statement of fact – there is no way in which I could pay for your goods and services even if I wanted them.

I know that the gutters need attention, along with drive ways and paths; but right now there is no money.  Maybe I should set up a crowdfunding account….

 

When unfriending is the friendly thing to do

I’m not a great social media junkie; I think I have a Tumblr account, somewhere.  I don’t have an Instagram account or use Reddit, and whilst Blackberry Messenger is (apparently) installed and available on my Blackberry I don’t have anyone to talk to on it except charming young ladies who seem to be short of friends and clothes.

I DO, however, use Facebook extensively, and to a lesser degree Twitter.

The rules of the game for me is that Twitter is for following companies, folks I do business with, magazines, websites, etc. Anyone or anything that I’m interested in but wouldn’t necessarily want to discuss my favorite films, the weird dream I had last night, politics or religion. I.e. – contacts, colleagues and comrades.

Now Facebook is rather different – that’s family and friends and some friends of friends – on the whole people that I care about in terms of their day to day lives – their ups, downs, successes and failures.  Folks who at some level or another I like or love, and who I’d happily spend time with in the pub or around the dinner table. Facebook is also where I am who I am – the unadulterated me. You’ll get me on bad days, good days, I’ll talk about cats, blog posts, state of the garden, food, my faith, and occasionally my politics. I’ll bitch about work, go ga-ga over a new TV show, share cat videos and generally project an online presence that, for better or worse, is similar to what folks get from me on a daily basis.

Facebook is, for me, the world of and according to, Joe.

Every now and again I do Facebook Purges.  These may sound quite Stalinist, and I guess at one level they are. I’m getting rid of folks who no longer belong in the filtered society of my Facebook friends list.  I’ve read all the articles about creating closed worlds of people that you agree with, and the problems that that can cause when interacting with wider society.

And I’m not bothered. The different view points I get from Twitter or trips to discussion boards.

Facebook is where I don’t mind my views being challenged, but I expect the challenging to be in a respectful way.  Facebook is my online living room; I don’t mind intense discussions around the dinner table at home; I would object if someone came in and started ranting at me for my politics or religious views.  In fact, I’d not expect such people to come and visit me at all if that was all they were going to do….they’d come over rather like the bods on the High Street with the placards proclaiming that the Second Coming is nigh and that Socialist Worker is the answer to everything.

Being a God-bothering man means that I will and I expect to get my faith questioned; I don’t proselytise too much on Facebook, and I think that most folks I know respect my views (though they may disagree with my belief in sky-pixies).  My political views are quite a hotch-potch, though, and this has caused increasing amounts of friction, especially with regard to Brexit.

The automatic response of some folks that everyone who voted to leave the EU was a racist bigot was quite hurtful – I’m a leaver and can walk and breathe at the same time, don’t drag my knuckles, and don’t believe that ‘they should all go home’.  I believe in giving home to genuine refugees. I also believe that we should have some degree of control of borders, and that international trade deals are not always good. And that building in a transnational super state in Europe may not be the best way to world peace.

Some folks I know have debated these issues with me and we’ve agreed to disagree. I may have moved closer to them, they may have moved closer to me. Others just called me names and I’m afraid I unfriended them.

And that was probably the kindest thing to do; unfriend on Facebook, keep on Twitter, keep contact to some degree in the ‘real world’ if necessary but avoid that risk of either person saying something that they will regret online in the heat of the moment.

At the moment another purge is in the offing; there are some folks who I rarely seem to engage with on Facebook and all I see from them are shared statements – often politics of one sort or another – or anti-faith posts of varying types.  Nothing ‘original’, lots of viral stuff.  It feels like having the folks with the ‘Jesus is nigh’ and ‘Socialist Worker’ placards simply turning up at your house and standing in the living room, waving the placards and shouting slogans.

No thanks.

Come and be my friend when you have something more to offer me than slogans.

 

Progress so far….

A few weeks ago I decided to try and get back in to regularly writing. This came after a conversation with my wife in which we recollected that in the 1980s I was able to earn about 50% of my income through writing – mainly technical journalism and technical books. There was one period where all my income came form writing – a year spent living in Nottingham and it was awesome.

Now, the world’s changed big-time and I doubt that the days of me making a fair income from technical writing will ever come back unless something major happens, but I decided that I would like to return to doing some writing and gradually build up to the point where I can see if I still have it in me to write a couple of books on topics that I’ve been mulling over for a while.  In one case, 30 years, but that’s another story!

One piece of advice I have taken to heart in the past and that worked very well for me was to make an appointment for myself to be at my desk and writing at a certain time each day.  So, I went through my calendar in OneNote and wrote down as the first activity of each day (after praying, feeding the cats (naturally – can’t upset the house-gods), and writing up my dream journal ) would be to write for 30 minutes.  I chose 30 minutes because I knew I could probably do it without too much hassle each day, and had done it in the past.  I also felt that 30 minutes was a time in which I could get a reasonable amount done – certainly a few hundred words if I came to the party prepared.

So, on the 12th November I did this blog post : http://reader.joepritchard.me.uk/godincidence-strikes-again/ and on the 13th I did ‘The Girl with the Parasol’ on this blog. I’d decided to go with the Blog posts as the way forward, as they make me come up with different ideas each day.  I’ll no doubt break out to short stories and longer stuff soon, but right now it’s the discipline I’m looking for.

So, how’s the project gone?

Well, setting the time has worked rather well; having said that I bet over half the time I’ve sat down later than the time specified for writing!  I set it early morning because that’s when I’m likely to be most creative – I’ve always been more of a morning person than anything else. But it has ensured that each day there’s a slot of time that I’ve put aside for my creative work and I’ve delivered on it.

Mostly.

The 28th November was a missed day – I’d had a long weekend, got up late, and then other things happened and the morning just got lost.  29th November was picked up again the day, and here we are on the 30th at the right time writing the words!  I’m not going to beat myself up about it – I decided that if I missed a day for a good reason (general lifestyle chaos is pretty good as far as I’m concerned) then I’d just crack on with it the next day.

In terms of ‘deliverables’, not including today, and not counting stuff I’ve written as part of my day-job or dream journal, I’ve written something in the region of 11,500 words in 19 days (not including this blog post) and don’t feel that I’ve raised a sweat.  Admittedly, it’s not going to get me a Pulitzer or Nobel prize anytime soon, but it’s shown me a few things about myself:

  • I can be disciplined enough to write each day.
  • I can come up with ideas to write a separate piece each day.
  • I can come back to writing after skipping a day.
  • In theory I could probably write 15,000 words a month and not notice the inroads in to my time.
  • That 30 minutes each day came from reading the news and social media – writing probably does my blood pressure more good!!

So – I have to say that the experiment is going well. I haven’t yet got it to ‘habit’ status, but it’s getting there. The next milestone will be around the middle of December when I can say ‘Over a month’.

Watch this space!

 

Unhappy the land that needs heroes….??

The line :

“Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.”

comes from Bertholt Brecht’s ‘Life of Gallileo’ and has stuck with me for many, many years.  I can’t remember when I first heard it, but it still rattles around my head and so I thought to myself – time for a think.

I don’t know whether I agree with it or disagree with it. When I first heard it I thought it to be so; these days I’m not so sure any more.  The way the world is today the characters of a Brecht play may not need heroes, but the rest of us probably do!

I’m a great believer in the quiet hero, as well as the more obvious heroes in our society.  I would add that there’s rarely anything truly heroic, in my opinion, about sports stars, actors, musicians and celebrities; as a society we seem to have slackened off our definition of hero over the years.  Having said that, there are a few heroic examples of these folks – just not the ones that appear on X-Factor….

I think it was George Orwell who commented something along the lines that so many works of critics regarded so many books as masterpieces written by geniuses, that when a REAL masterpiece came along written by a TRUE genius the critics would have to find new words with which to describe them!

Are there people that everyone can agree are heroes?

Here are a few definitions….

“A hero is someone who stays brave for 5 seconds longer than everyone else.” – Captain James T Kirk

“A hero is someone who has given their life over to something bigger than themselves.” – Joseph Campbell

“When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home. ” Tecumseh

“I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. ” – Christoper Reeve

“A hero is somebody who is selfless, who is generous in spirit, who just tries to give back as much as possible and help people. A hero to me is someone who saves people and who really deeply cares. ” – Debi Mazar

“My dad’s the one who’s always been there; he’s my hero, you could say. Even when he was working, he’d do anything for me. He’s been the biggest influence in my life. ” – Gareth Bale

“The thing about a hero, is even when it doesn’t look like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, he’s going to keep digging, he’s going to keep trying to do right and make up for what’s gone before, just because that’s who he is.” – Joss Wheedon

“Neil Young is my hero, and such a great example. You know what that guy has been doing for the past 40 years? Making music. That’s what that guy does. Sometimes you pay attention, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes he hands it to you, sometimes he keeps it to himself. He’s a good man with a beautiful family and wonderful life. ” – Dave Grohl

I’m not sure what the common features are here, but I’ve known and still know people who these quotes describe.

I am surrounded by quiet heroes in my life; those folks who fit the descriptions given above by Joseph Campbell and Christopher Reeve. People who’ve given themselves to something bigger than themselves.  Their family, charitable works, their community. Folks who’re constantly fighting the odds. The ones who, as Wheedon says, keep digging even when there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel.

I need people like this; they’re the folks I look to when the shit is hitting the fan and all seems dark. They’re the ones providing the light – the faint glimmer that, as John says in his Gospel, cannot be put out by the darkness.

They’re also the ones who make me want to be a better man, and perhaps be a hero to others.

 

Today you, tomorrow me

The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is feed the cats, then make tea, then sit and allow some of my higher brain functions to come online, usually whilst browsing Facebook.  There then comes a point where abstract thought is possible and then I like to write.

The nice thing about the Facebook browse is that sometimes it gives me the idea for the day’s blog post.  That was the case today – I came across the phrase “Today you, tomorrow me” in a set of stories about people being given help by total strangers with nothing being wanted or expected – or even accepted – in return.

The phrase apparently comes from the Spanish; an entry on an ‘urban dictionary’ website tells us:

From the Spanish “hoy por tí, mañana por yo”, it is used to “justify”acts of kindness toward strangers.  For example:

“Thanks for helping me with my flat tire. Please accept this $50 as a token of my gratitude. ”
“No need. Today you, tomorrow me”

I guess it’s a more graceful response than my usual ‘Fuggedaboutit’!

I had to sit and think for a few minutes about it. Today you – today, you are the one needing help. Tomorrow me – tomorrow I may be the one needing help.  It’s ‘Pay it forward’ – I guess that it’s easy for us to think of such a gesture of kindness as a form of enlightened self interest, or spiritual insurance of some sort.  If that works for you, then go for it – help someone out because you never know when you yourself will need help.

As a Christian, I look at it slightly differently; for me, as a recipient of that help, I’m aware that I’ve done NOTHING to warrant it from the people giving it, except share the planet. That’s how we also look upon the love of God – we’ve done nothing to warrant it, but we get it.  And on giving help out, a Christian isn’t being helpful to get in to God’s good-books, but because the grace of God is working through them to  do good works.

However, you view it – it’s an excellent philosophy to live by.  I’ve benefited from the kindness of strangers over the years, and I hope that I have managed to give something back to other strangers.

I’ve also experienced incredible kindness from people who I do know – albeit slightly – when other people who I might have expected to offer help to me in difficult times have not been able or willing to do so.

Apart from the actual ‘getting me out of the mire’ gratitude I’m also grateful to all those who’ve helped me  in this way because they have added to my faith in human nature. They’ve also helped me to not be judgmental, and to remember the times when I was possibly not as helpful as I could have been.

Take a look at how you might be able to ‘pay something forward’ in your lives. You don’t have to have spare money, or even masses of time available. And it needn’t be a big thing. We have no idea how important the relatively trivial events of life may prove to be in the great scheme of things.

Today you, tomorrow me….

 

The JAMs

A new set of initials entered the language of British politics this week – JAM.  They stand for ‘Just About Managing’ and refer to families or individuals who are just about getting by in the current financial climate, but who, by implication, might feel the pinch hard if the economic situation in the UK worsens.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-38049245

I realised that I’d been a JAM for about twenty years, – in fact, I was a JAM WELL before it was trendy and had it’s own set of initials. I think I entered JAMness in the late 1990s and have meandered around the edges of it since.

So, leaving the political commentaries aside, what has being a JAM meant to me and mine?  I should add that we’re a single income household,  don’t have children, and to be honest I chose a career path that whilst it’s given me flexibility, hasn’t given me a load of cash!

So…what might new JAMmies start to realise after being on the JAMline for a few months.

Financial planning is something of a joke.  The idea of putting a portion of my income away in to savings. I manage to contribute to a pension because it’s taken at source.

You reach the end of the money before the end of the month.  Having said that, I do have the option of doing a little more freelance work to take up the slack; at least I have something sellable.  Of course, time is an issue.

Socialising, holidays, buying folks you love nice gifts – forget it. These are things that require planning to generate the spare money. Christmas planning for us starts 2-3 months ahead of the start of shopping in order to work out how to get the money together.

Decisions as to whether to eat or heat. When you have ‘pay as you go’ electricity and gas it genuinely can boil down to feeding the meters before feeding yourself.  You realise how expensive energy is and end up running the house at a lower temperature and wearing more clothes.

One unexpected expenditure – dental work, unexpected vet’s bill, new shoes, etc. will knock the carefully planned weekly expenditure totally off kilter. You can try creating a ‘rainy day’ fund but trust me, unless you can top it up regularly, it soon runs dry.

Spur of the moment spending is not possible.

Having said that, what advice do I have for new JAMmies?  Of course, many of you are there already but now you have a name for yourselves.  For those who may become JAMmies in the near future….

Well, welcome to the club. It’s a bit of a pain in the arse, but these days it’s no longer the perceived refuge of the  the idle and feckless that it used to be.  After all, we’re here. 🙂

As soon as possible, work out your spending and income – do a budget and attempt wholeheartedly to stick to it.  In fact, most people don’t have a grip on where there money goes – if you can get a handle on that then you’re already ahead of the game.  Saving money on occasional, small things that you really enjoy is pointless – you don’t actually save that much and you make yourself miserable. Factor some ‘me money’ in to your budget.

If you feel JAMminess approaching, get to work on reducing credit card debt as soon as you can; that credit card may well be the thing that keeps you fed some months, assuming it’s not maxed out with computer games and handbags.

Prepare family and friends for the new regime. Explain that whilst you love them dearly, you can no longer afford the big presents, the frequent (and mainly expensive) nights out.  You may find that they too are approaching the JAM status and can see where you’re coming from.

Be prepared to swallow pride; if you need help from friends, food-banks, etc. go for it.  State help is, as you’ll be aware, a decreasingly common option (and of decreasing value) so don’t assume that ‘the Government’ will help you out.  They won’t; they only help you IN to the JAM Today club.

I don’t expect this situation to change; for me it’s so much a part of day to day life that I forget the shock to the system that it can be for people when they find their life changed in this way.

It will be tough; but you will survive. After 20 years at it, trust me; it’s possible. Just don’t expect your view of the world to stay the same!

The Why of Spam…

Not the delicious and non-nutritious tinned pork product, but the unsolicited email.

Spam has a long history:

“On May 3, 1978, the Internet witnessed a glorious and not particularly welcome birth: The first ever spam email. Gary Thuerk, a marketer for the Digital Equipment Corporation, blasted out his message to 400 of the 2600 people on ARPAnet, the DARPA-funded so-called “first Internet.””

It’s almost 40 years old and older than the public Internet.  But why does it still continue.  After all, for there to be any sense to sending mails out – even automatically – someone, somewhere, must make some money or get some sort of payback from it.  This requires someone to open the spam and either act on it – i.e. buy something form it, visit a website, etc. – or be acted upon by the spam – e.g. it’s carrying malware which puts trojan horse and virus software on their PC and probably gives them athlete’s foot at the same time.

I have a ‘throwaway’ email account that I use when I don’t want to give my main email address.  It’s on my own domain, so any anti-spam protection I apply to it is purely up to me.  And for the sake of entertainment and education I’ve applied the absolute minimum anti-spam filtering that my hosting service will allow.  I check the account occasionally, primarily to see whether there’s anything ‘doing the rounds’ that might look realistic enough to fool some of my freelance clients in to accidentally getting themselves in to deep water.

For your entertainment today, therefore, I present a few subject lines.  Who with at least a few working brain-cells could ersist the following :

  • 7 second fat flush trick
  • Stirling Generator – Big Electricity bans media cover on Stirling Generator plans
  • Kirsten Cote – re. your invoice
  • Charwin Mortgages – consider hundreds of remortgage deals
  • Hibbert, Sasha – Overdue Invoice
  • Yes Option – read this legendary story

and so on.  I now know that in the fevered world of conspiracy nutters there is now ‘Big Electricity’ who’re trying to stop you getting free electricity from inefficient generator sets or getting electricity from the air for free (Ben Franklin tried that, guys…)  As for free energy – well, I’m with Homer Simpson…this house obeys the laws of thermodynamics!

I hope that one day ‘Big Cupcake’ will emerge, crushing us all under demands that we must purchase more and more cupcakes so that our diabetes will need drugs prepared by ‘Big Pharma’ in factories powered by ‘Big Electricity’.

I have quite a few invoices that either I haven’t paid or someone wants to pay and can’t.  The details are, of course, in the attached zip file…

Who opens this sort of crap? Does anyone believe it? Or are there people out there with the cognitive capability of a mung-bean who believe this bollocks?

The amount of spam sent keeps rising – take a look here at this report from Kapersky Labs.  Spams on the back of world events, treatments for ailments that ‘Big Pharma’ are keeping from us (usually pointing to sites run by someone who makes ‘Doctor Nick’ from The Simpsons look like the winner of the Nobel Prize for medicine.

I’m not looking to provide any answers here, but am genuinely interested in how it is that potentially:

“Spam is still a big business. Unsolicited junk mail accounts for 86 percent of the world’s e-mail traffic, with about 400 billion spam messages sent a day, according to Talos, a digital threat research division of Cisco Systems.”

And this isn’t including the hand-crafted stuff deliberately designed with a particular person in mind as an attempt to hack their systems.  This is the ‘blanket bombing’ stuff.

The spammers make money from the sellers of snake oil.  The snake oil salesmen must feel it worthwhile to give spammers money. Who are the morons who give money to the snake oil salesmen? The only thing I can think of is that things are so, so desperate in the world now that people will believe any and all crap they see ‘on the Internet’ no matter how outlandish and no matter who from.

We’re getting dumber by the day.

 

 

 

Practicing thanksgiving

In a rare example of timeliness, I want to talk about thanksgiving. However, not just about the American holiday, but about the general idea of giving thanks for stuff.  I know it sounds a bit Pollyanna-ish – if such a word exists – but I genuinely believe that to be thankful and to express those thanks in some way is one of the greatest things we can do as human beings.

As a Christian, giving thanks to God is part and parcel of my religious beliefs. Yes, it’s sometimes hard to do when you feel that the world is giving you a good kicking, but I always try and include something in my daily prayers.

And that does make me aware that on the whole most of us who can read this in the comfort of their own home have a couple of things at least to be thankful for immediately; you currently have a roof over your head, and you have the facilities and money required to at least for the moment give you Internet access.  And I think that that is where our ‘practising thankfulness’ has to start; much of what we take for granted is worthy of being grateful for, even if we’ve worked for it and think that we deserve it.

There’s actually some suggestion that being grateful and saying thank you is actually good for you. I’ve always been a better giver than receiver; I’m not terribly good at taking compliments, or receiving help, or being on the receiving end of thanks or congratulations – it makes me rather uncomfortable.  But saying thanks to folks – never really been a problem for me.

It’s something that is so easy to do, and it makes a difference to people.  Even I, with my reluctance to take thanks-yous well, feel better when someone thanks me.  I’ll be a bit embarrassed about it, but I try to take it well and it usually does end up bringing a smile to my face.  It certainly does me more good than the times when I put myself out for someone and they ignore it or take it for granted!  It’s not that I do stuff and expect thanks; it’s just nice to be appreciated.

And as for being thankful – it seems logical to me.  I think when you offer thanks – to the world, the universe, God, the next door neighbour, whatever – you’re actually acknowledging that you’ve been part of something collaborative; that you’re aware at some level that you needed something or someone else to help you bring about something that you’ve done.  It’s a source of humility; it’s something that brings you down to earth. It prevents you from being arrogant and overly proud.  Genuine gratitude for anything is the means by which we can connect with something bigger than ourselves.

By saying thank you to the chap who held the door open, we establish – albeit briefly and temporarily – a new relationship.  By thanking folks for those small impacts on our lives, we might be helping them feel better and perhaps encouraging them to ‘spread the word’ in some way.

Which these days has got to be worth doing!

It’s a dangerous world….

The Advertising Standards Authority managed to drag a wry smile out of me this morning as I read the news that they’d banned an advert for Heinz Baked Beans because it might encourage children to hurt themselves.

The story is here : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-38073866 and the advert is based around playing the rhythm of a song on full and empty bean tins. Now, apart from the risk of such tympanic efforts entering in to the nation’s psyche like the ‘Heinz Beanz Song’ from my childhood:

“A million housewives every day,

Pick up a tin of beans and say

Beanz meanz Heinz”

I was hard pressed to think what harm could come to kids from playing the Heinz Bongoes. OK, particularly hard pressed parents might throw the odd tin at their offspring to get them to stop, but that was it…but then it was made clear that the risks to kids were from possibly cutting their fingers on the open ends of a tin.

Now, at first glance I thought – fair enough.  Then I started thinking,

“No. Not fair enough. The world is a tough place. Kids need to learn that occasionally you’ll get cut, scratched, grazed, burned and bruised when you play and learn.  Don’t take dumb risks, but don’t live in a cotton wool world where folks try and stop everything happening to you.”

Because if you try and control the small stuff that gives a painful reminder of the dangers of the world, when the big, uncontrollable, nasty shit comes along out of nowhere on a Saturday afternoon the kids have no experience of what it’s like to get whacked. More importantly, they have no way to judge risk; a world in which you never get exposed to mild risk is not a healthy world.

There’s a lovely line from the god-like alien ‘Q’ in Star Trek: The Next Generation, where he is explaining something about the universe to Captain Picard who’s just had a VERY narrow squeak:

If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It’s not safe out here. It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross; but it’s not for the timid.

He’s right. A world perfectly safe and with no risk couldn’t have generated the human race; and certainly won’t generate a healthy generation of children.  There’s a big difference between being safe and being timid; between taking stupid risks and entering for this year’s Darwin Awards and engaging in an activity that has a small amount of risk as a by-product

There was an interesting study done about the ‘range’ of children today and over the last 100 years – the maximum distance that a child was from home during their free time and play.  It was quite un-scientific and probably non-representative but suggested that a radius of 10 or more miles was not uncommon a hundred years ago; my personal radius in the 1960s/70s was down to about 5 miles or so; today in many cases it’s less than a mile, and little outside.

Activities are often now virtual; the biggest risk of harm is likely to be a pulled thumb muscle or repetitive strain injury.

So, here’s the start of a helpful guide for children of all ages to be used when adverts don’t contain the necessary health and safety small print.

  1. Sharp stuff can cut you. Really sharp stuff can cut deeply. So can paper. Watch those books.
  2. Hot things burn you.
  3. Anything electrical can potentially hurt you badly. Don’t screw around with anything bigger than a 9 volt PP3.
  4. Don’t eat anything that isn’t a recognised food.
  5. Jumping from heights has a risk of twisted ankles.

The list can go on and on….but you get the picture. It is a potentially risky world out there and play is one of the ways in which we get our abilities to function in the world honed to a fine point.

We never really finish learning; as Kipling said in ‘The God of the copy-book headings‘ “And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;”

May your day be full of small, manageable risks and may your bumps and bruises be safe ones.

WARNING – Nothing in this blog post should be taken as advocating risky activities. All safety guidelines should be read as humorous asides. (OK…legal guys…is that OK?)

 

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