Saturday, 8 August 2020

Humanism Schism

I've had my letter from the government detailing that I can ease up on shielding. One of the highlights of recent days was Lidl opening, a five-minute cycle ride from here. Lidl have wide aisles and hand sanitising facilities in place, yet despite Welsh Government stating that people advice to maintain a 2 metre distance, most shoppers in Lidl on the two occasions I have been there, are not even trying to maintain distance. They amble along, sometimes in groups, reaching over people and ignoring the radio pleas from the Lidl speakers, asking them politely to maintain distance. On the roads, crowds of tourists amble along, often (in my experience) refusing to give way to cyclists despite polite requests or bell ringing. Motorists often put foot instead of giving way, and I often see people texting on phones in vehicles and on a number of occasions, texting as they cycle - I kid you not. Local forums where pedestrianisation has been posited quickly become ugly, with business owners and their cohorts swiftly forming an angry braying mob.

On social media, tribes attack other tribes. Beaches, pathways and the local green, are vast dog toilets. Most dog owners clean up but there are daily missile attacks. Imagine if humans let their small ones poop all over the place? Drivers belch out pollution and take up too much room on the road, not heeding the rules for cyclists. I find the SUV drivers particularly unyielding. Outside our town walls, 'boy-racers,' some barely 17, I assume, but with the appearance of boys much younger, race on the A55 and any roads that are clear - thankfully not usually within our town walls, they'd never get up the speed. We moved from London to a UNESCO world heritage site, with amazing castle, despite its brutal history. I am sorry to say that too many are treating the environment around here brutally. So many selfish people clawing for themselves, their families, their dogs, with nary a thought that they are running roughshod over people, historic buildings, animals, mountains and sea. 

Why are people so selfish? I have one answer. They are their own gods. If you don't believe in God, you don't believe in consequences for actions. You believe you have the power to make your own way, your own standards. In short, you are a law unto yourself. The above is an example of what that looks like. Humanists, for instance, posit that humans should not look to the bible or a holy book or God to run their lives. They can do that for themselves. Idealistically, they suggest looking after the planet for instance and treating each other well. Hilariously, one humanist philosopher has written a lofty and self-consciously stylised alternative to the bible. As with most copies, the original is better, and, in my experience, if followed, is life changing, and works. It shines up and puts the God-given moral compass into action. The problem with humans 'doing it for themselves’ is that some of us behave as I have outlined above, and worse. Some of us try to do well and some of us try to muddle through, dodgy compasses unplugged from the life-source, charting their own careening course.


Saturday, 18 July 2020

The Dangers of Small Town Life

It’s been two months. Remiss of me not to check in. Hello! Or Helo, as it is in Welsh. Croeso (You’re welcome). I’ve been working hard at learning Welsh, whilst relearning Spanish, which I learnt as a small kid when we lived in Spain. As a child I was tri-lingual, given my father was Portuguese, which for youngsters is as easy as getting on a tricycle, so given my former glory, I’ve taken Duolingo at it’s word (duo=2), sorry to patronise. I think it also stands for too much. It’s been a humbling experience – not as easy as riding a bike. I recognise that if you move to another country, and contrary to common belief, Wales really is another country, then learning the lingo is the way to go; though most English-speaking folk don’t learn it, which really is a bit colonial, and only feeds the annoyance of many Welsh speakers whose ancestors have endured English colonisation since Ed the conqueror, who built the castle, here in Conwy.

Here in Conwy, the locals are having a spat about the high street potentially being pedestrianised over the summer due to Covid19. Feeings have been running higher than Lance Armstrong in/on? The Tour de France. Attitudes have been harder than his butt. I’m for, and on local forums, I’ve politely stated my case, only to have it used as a handbag (handhag?) to hit me on the head. I’ve encountered derision, scorn, red-faced or hand-shrugging emojis, playground nastiness, sarcasm and sexism. Hate not debate seems to be the ethos, this is how strong the against forum is. The pros are nicer and more pro, obvs! (wink emoji). 

Back to LA (not the place, the bloke and on to cycling dopes). In another message stream, on a local forum, people have been going wild at the notion that cyclists are allowed to use Marine Walk, where folk like to meander with their pets – fair enough right? But ‘right’ on these forums, means fascistic. There were angry emojis apace, when bike racks were spotted on Marine Walk. Following a comment that cyclists should ‘just be polite,’ I was blocked on the site for asking what being polite as a cyclist looked like. My question was: “Should we ring our bells, get off our bikes or shout out ‘excuse me?” I genuinely wanted to know so that community feeling between cyclists and leggers could be improved. In response the person who ran the site demanded where I lived with two question marks and blocked me from the convo, if you could call it that. Sometimes I miss London still (crying emoji). Small town life is wonderful, thanks to the setting, but as to characterisation and plot…

The streets, and the paths that people in Conwy must share – on foot – on bikes – but mostly in cars, are narrow, sadly, like the minds of some of the people (insert crying with laughter/shocked emoji here), and I believe, cannot sustain the continued battering and disdain of people determined to continue to pollute the streets (over 400 vehicles a day endlessly stopping and starting - farting great blasts of sea, land and lung pollutants that erodes historic buildings. We need to think outside of ourselves for solutions, to the pollution of mind, heart, land and community. We are all parts of a communal whole.

Friday, 15 May 2020

A 40th on Lockdown

My husband recently turned 40. Given lockdown, I gave his birthday much thought. It seemed so...significant, in more ways than that four, coupled with that zero signified. Need I remind us that we are living in deeply significant times. Life and death times. We are always living in life and death times, it's just that we kid ourselves that we are not. Encased in our sludgy-jelly soft bodies, we, (the human collective) mostly go blithely on our way as if we have any control over whether we live or die. This threat, (and for most of us it really is just a threat), looms large through our media and other dystopian cultural commentaries. Though the streets are silent(er), there is a babble out there. Some have responded by frantically making videos, others (mild hypocrisy alert) are digitally commenting all the time. Others are weighing up the meaning of life, and death; some are quietly, or loudly, freaking out. Having sorted out the meaning of life: God/Love. Simple/Not Simple, I got on to planning my husband's birthday.

Our car packed up just before lockdown and I am one of the ones who can't flip to furlogh, so cash levels are jokey. So what to do for this significant man, this significant day? The kids and I decided on a 3-day extravaganza, Mexican Fiesta - we all like Mexican, and a dash of Tequila never goes amiss. The kids agreed to do a performance and unanimously agreed that this should be La Cucaracha, perhaps inspired by life - the cockroaches that we have had to put down in the alleyway between our house and the restaurant we live in close proximity to. Armed with lyrics fearfully close to our hearts, we set to (best way to dispel our own fears is by singing and laughing at them, no?) And no sooner had my husband took off on his bike with his large backpack and bicycle to do our weekly shop some five miles away, we got to work with on the crazy.

By the time the man of the moment returned, the children had turned 2m flat cardboard packaging into a giant tortilla that my middle son wore, complete with coloured paper cheese, tomato and lettuce, and oval cut-out for his head. Scraps of cardboard were made into hats that were hastily spraypainted outside. The kids huddled in the courtyard learning lyrics and I painted Cape-Town in acrylics (my beloved's birthplace). That night I baked his birthday cake and iced and decorated it while our soon-to-be Mexicanised man was in the shower - this included slapping the buttercream that I had made all over the place and drawing 40 on the cake with an icing pen. Happily, I can knock out signage pretty accurately on the one-off, but he wouldn't have cared - it's the taste that counts. Cards were made and lovingly described. Following a tip-off from another Emily, I asked some of Simon's friends to make videos of memories. 

The actual fiesta was wonderful. The sun shone, we walked in stunning Conwy; the kids' performance was hysterical - they came down singing la Cucaracha as I carried in the cake, ponchos and hats on, heavy eyebrows and moustaches pencilled in, my daughter playing guitar, my little son bashing a tambourine and the middle one staggering around as a giant tortilla, as my daughter sang and my sons mumbled and bawled out la Cucaracha; the videos were heart-warming; the painting was loved and exclaimed over, and the surprising messages others sent - amongst the cards and the many moving messages sent electronically, there was a genuinely funny joke and a hilarious poem from one of our German friends; there were parcels on the doorstep that kept appearing. We ate fabulous food and drank tequila and had a noisy Marvel Movie Festival. We were well, we were together. We toasted life. He said it was the best one yet.

Monday, 20 April 2020

The Power of Critical Thinking

After seeing yet another Facebook platitude with some random statistics from an unknown source, with its subliminal messages (yes, plural) and fearmongering, I'm reminded how important it is that we all think for ourselves and mind the gap, between what is stated and what is unsaid, unresearched, unscientific or otherwise engendered. If only critical thinking was taught in schools. From primary school. I remember being so disappointed a number of years back now, when my eldest son was progressing to years 11/12, and his school decided not to do the International Baccalaureate. Their Critical Thinking module seemed critical then. Academic hoop jumping does not help us think. Now, more than ever, we need to read widely, and behind the numbers, as much as we can, and not just accept and repost things at face value. Those of us that can decode statistics. I look at them and get my husband, a doctor of sciences to decode them, so I am not saying we all need to be statisticians, but there are websites that explain things if we can be bothered to look at sources.

I no longer comment on 'political' posts on Facebook. I don't see the point. People will keep posting what they want to believe, however erroneous the source material, but for those of us who are in any way serious about the truth, I think we should overcome our desires to be 'right' or 'right-on' and think first before we post/repost, after all, there are so many mechanisms of control at play - in and out of the press, do we really want to be their mini-puppets of mind control? Where I mostly find Facebook unhelpful, Twitter is handier in terms of people commenting at the source, and I have found it to be a helpful means of acquiring information at the source - mind the trolls though, they really are lemmings. We really must consider before hopping on board - why are people repeating this? Is it true? Might there be an agenda? What subtle messages lie behind this statement/text?

The government is getting quite a bashing from 'people who know better.' I feel a bit sorry for them (the bashed and the bashees.)  These are unprecedented times. Wouldn't it be more helpful if we drew together despite our differences to actually make a difference as so many are doing with words of encouragement and offering to but shopping for people and so on? Of course, we need an opposition government to hold our government to account, but couldn't they, given the times, just think a little more critically before criticising? I was stunned by the tribal hatred that came out against the PM when he was in hospital. Don't people stop to think that there was a man, a partner (of a woman with child), brother son? Whatever our political allegiances, let's think before we 'speak.' The internet is fraught with hazards. And often just fraught with so much postulating and talk that would not take place face to face.

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

On Homeschooling: A response to a BBC Article from a home educating parent

This is my response to the above BBC link.

No, you should increase your expectations but not in the way that you seem to think. My main concern is for children whose parents are less well off and for whom going to school is a lifeline, and for many a decent meal too. My son went to state schools in London in affluent and less affluent areas, so I understand the diversity of the school system. Many of his friends went to private schools, so I have seen children emerge from a variety of schooling systems.

I understand the concerns of parents, but for those of us who home educate, I can’t help feeling bemused by this article given whom it appears to address. I really don’t mean to sound smug but my children are all well above what is expected of them at their ages, academically, but also, and perhaps more importantly, in terms of emotional intelligence and confidence, and we do not usually do more than 2 hours a day of formal input, from me or my husband. Mine range from 7 - soon to be 11. However, my children are 'schooled' for most of their waking hours. The elder two read prolifically: literature, but also comics, National Geographic and any books about animals and small creatures, prehistoric or not - my 8-year-old knows far more than me about the natural world than I have learned in 5 decades. My youngest who reads as well but is more gripped by numbers builds Lego that is 16+, not because he is bright, though he is, but because he has the time to do so and nob one has tod him he can't. As such, they do all sorts of things they wouldn't be able to do at school, not least due to the time constraints of overstretched teachers, including Computer Programming, sewing, and sculpting, building wooden cars vehicles with power tools and mountain climbing and hiking.

Outside our home, they all attend classes at the local climbing wall, swimming pool and theatre school. the boys do athletics; my daughter attends Brownies, a cooking club and a gaming group. At other times of the day, we engage in discussions and debates with them on a variety of topics from History, Society, Culture, Science, Spirituality, and Ethics to Lady Gaga and Sia. The opinions of young children are particularly fresh and insightful. There is so much to learn from their fresh experience of life. I bore them with my back catalogue of music and play classical music (good for the brain and creativity) when we are painting or drawing. My daughter practises Welsh songs and ABBA for her singing tutor (I join in there, sometimes: "Oh, Mum!"). They learn Welsh or practice times tables and spelling on their i-pads; we tell stories, discuss current affairs in the car, look for critters on walks and cycle rides.

We spend hours on Lego and whacky games, some educational ones that we make up using whatever's to hand - dice, dominoes, chalkboard at the moment. And we do lots of art and singing. They have time to do all of the above. This is the difference. This is what's on offer. It's what seemed best to us, and our circumstances. Yours are likely different and your kids may be in a school where their needs are best met. I've no doubt about how we are (imperfectly, I'm sure; but best we feel) meeting our children's diverse needs. Don't panic in the interim, there is much on offer for those that this article points up.

This is a snapshot of how we do things at the moment. We prefer to say 'home educating' rather than 'homeschooling' as we don't currently use curriculum materials, some homeschooling parents follow an academic curriculum. I make sure they are equal to or above what is expected at their ages but I don't get hung up about it. When my youngest didn't automatically start reading at the young ages of the other two, I let him continue with Lego and numbers until he naturally began seeing words. My husband encouraged me to leave him be until he was ready and able to catch on fast with confidence. He's still quicker at maths than me, but happily, my husband paid more attention in that department than I did, otherwise, I'd be swotting for every lesson, not so much for primary maths but for secondary, my husband has already begun algebra with my ten-year-old. When I do need to swot, I enjoy it. It's a learning opportunity for me. I also consult what I call The Book of Vorderman when my memory fuzzes.

I don’t see anyone asking the homeschooling/educating community for advice, but here’s some: If you’re worrying don’t, chances your children will catch up. We do not spend hours a day schooling, though our kids attend a lot of outside activities, clubs, and classes such as theatre school. Trust your children and use this time to have quality time with them. Do creative activities with them and address their emotional needs. If you have a garden do crazy family games or engage in bonkers combined singing and PE activities as we do. Focus on them and their other needs. I understand this wasn’t planned or a life choice, but nevertheless, it is an opportunity. Do something visionary and mind-expanding with them. Do it differently.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

The Earth is Breathing Again

I opened my window today to blue skies and a warm breeze. The hilly landscape that I can see from my window seat is green and scattered with grazing sheep. Birds soar; there is hardly any sign of human life, but for the silent queue of people waiting for the pharmacy to open. The air that I breathed today felt fresh, and, did I imagine it? Unpolluted. It seemed that the earth was breathing again. Due to Covid-19, there are fewer planes in the sky, (When was the last time you heard one?) and fewer cars on the road. When this ghastly phase has passed, can we somehow, keep things cleaner, so we can all keep breathing better, and longer. We do so take our air for granted.

Our car, that we recently bought a new clutch for, has packed up. It refuses to move from second gear. The nation, like our car, seems to be refusing to accept that they must stay indoors to beat this ghastly virus. Here in Snowdonia, record numbers of walkers were out climbing Snowdon and otherwise ignoring advice not to go out and about, or travel to second homes. The current crisis has been compared to the Second World War - food shortages and the like - but would people have snatched up all the bog roll then, or selfishly disobeyed orders to stay at home or only go out if necessary?

In other news, I have continued my cold showers and open sea, cold water (sans wetsuit; with cozzie only) which is, as I have previously mentioned meant to reduce inflammation and increase white blood cells. It is certainly invigorating. The fam and I had a wonderful hike up our local mountain today, and we were actually hot afterward: the day was practically balmy, as opposed to barmy - the state of mind of throngs of people descending and ascending Welsh mountains in recent days. The few walkers we met kept the requires 2m distance. I continue to produce a fair amount of paintings in-studio and editing continues on my third book. As to Covid-19, it's horrid, but this too will pass.

A recent video of me swimming in an ice-cold sea in bikini and wellies (it was rocky, I was rolly).

Saturday, 14 March 2020


I have been determined to swim all year round in the sea this year and today I finally achieved my promise to myself. A friend introduced me to a group of swimmers who swim through the winter in cold waters. They are called the Bluetits, adorable, no? Today I bolted my coffee, got out of my warm bed and drove ten minutes to the coast where I took the plunge into a freezing cold sea. My tactic was to bolt in and keep on going until I began to swim. I made it, for a minute at least. It was invigorating, and, I think strengthening, if a little bonkers.

Advocates of swimming in cold water say that it increases white blood cells and fends off diseases, presumably by boosting immunity. I boosted my confidence and attracted a small amused audience at any rate. I felt pretty great afterwards. The water was a bit shocking, but I am going to continue with this jape, at least once a week.

There is a Dutch dude who is super fit, and goes by the nimble name of Wim Hof. Wim likes getting most of his kit off before delighting in swimming in freezing waters, or just hanging out in the ice for extended periods of time, or just rolling around in the like an unclad toddler making snow angels. Google him, he has to be seen to be believed. As do I, which is why I add this little video so you can stare agape at my winter sea swimming japes.

In other news, painting at the studio is going well. I have produced a number of abstract works in acrylics and oils. My three youngest children come in with me on a Friday and produce wonderful paintings and drawings. I am also working on the second book in the Big Men’s Boots trilogy. Life after cancer is good.