谁他妈抽了我的中南海? – 26th February 2020

“a parent catching her child with cigarettes and forcing him to smoke the whole pack.”

Despite my father dying of lung cancer when I was a baby, my mother kept smoking for another 15 to 20 years after, then gave up in her early 60s and lived for another 20 years, though she suffered from COPD in the last 5 or so years which restricted her a lot.

I grew used to her smoking though I actually have no real memory of her puffing on a cigarette. Of course it was only natural her naughty son would steal an occasional cigarette, find a way to light it and go off down the end of the garden and practice smoking. I could be an adult too.

It was a great game. Waiting for my mother to leave her packet unattended, gradually sneaking a couple more each time. I was never caught but I’m guessing she knew. When I had upgraded to smoking in my bedroom I would get caught once or twice and my mum just tutted and asked where I got the cigarettes from to which I would guiltily lie. She couldn’t really say much without looking like a hyprocrite.

I also upgraded to stealing my grandfather’s beer which he kept stored in an outdoor shed. I loved the feeling alcohol gave me. I also remember being able to open my gullet so the liquid went straight down without gulping. A talented 13 year old I was becoming.

When my mum gave up smoking I had already started earning my own money and had developed my own addiction. I was proud of her giving up. I still hated myself too much to try. It wasn’t until much later when my son was born that I eventually stopped and that took a huge effort. At that point I was still secretly smoking at work and stuffing down packets of mints so my wife wouldn’t detect it. But eventually I stopped.

I still have dreams about that and sometimes I hit lucidity within the dream and wonder about the fact that I still smoke sometimes. It’s a weird feeling. I really hate the smell of burning cigarettes now and try to avoid going to bars and restaurants where smoking is permitted, something which is still common throughout Asia.

If the Chinese want to make a silent protest towards their government they should surely quit smoking and stop that tax money ending up in the pockets of their leaders! But cigarettes are like a handshake there, a different cultural definition.

Anyways, I was never forced to smoke a whole pack of cigarettes fortunately, though everyone knew the story of some kid that it had been forced upon. Did it ever happen or is it just urban legend?

This is England….

Drink to the present before it shall fail – 24th February 2020

It was a weekend of dying. In the morning, Kimi, my great friend in Kuala Lumpur passed away at the too young age of 36. In the afternoon our neighbour’s grandfather passed away at the ripe old age of 90.

My one aim in life was to live longer than my father, something which I managed to surpass in the last year or so. My father died when I was just 18 months old; lung cancer, after a lifetime of being advertised to the health benefits of smoking. It’s difficult to gauge exactly what effect that event had on my life but it is surely significant. Death was a part of my life from the beginning.

One of my earliest memories is aged 4, sitting up in my bed, crying my eyes out, knowing that one day I would die. I couldn’t believe it. What was this thing called life all about if you just ended up dying?

Whilst I was sitting around crying for my friend far away, feeling useless, the neighbours were busy making preparations.

Could I get to KL to be with everyone? What kind of funeral ceremonies do my Muslim friends have? Are they celebrations of someone’s life or sombre occasions like in most of the west?

I’ve become somewhat familiar with Thai funerals unfortunately. Many of Amy’s family are at that age when funerals come along more often. I’m also getting to the age when more and more friends will leave too. And it will be my turn sooner than I’d like too.

In the smaller villages of Thailand it is still traditional to keep the body in the home for around 5 days before cremation. I’m not sure about burial here. All the funerals I have attended have been cremations and the only places I have seen graves are for people with Chinese backgrounds. I think burial should only really be used if a tree is planted along with the body which I know has started to become more popular in some places and seems to make a lot of environmental sense.

Gatherings, food, prayers and respects are shown by visitors to the home, from relatives and the local residents. Family spread out all over the country will drive back to attend. As this grandfather was 90 years old and his family have lived in the village his whole life it was due to be a big turnout. So big that local farmers where hired to clear the jungle land opposite our house to make an impromptu car park. There were some big rats living in there that were quickly grabbed by the locals and I don’t want to guess what for.

Huge gazebos were erected, a PA system bigger than Motorhead (every house seems to own huge PAs – even worse when combined with their Karaoke machines!) Each night for 5 nights, crowds would gather, monks would chant, food would be served until on the final day a huge silver decorated cart would take the body off to the crematorium, followed by everyone as it spiralled through the village.

I sat through an hour or so each night of chanting and it was quite meditative and mesmerising, especially as I was often lost in thought for my friend Kimi. I then struggled through another night of a chief monk talking. I didn’t struggle with his words, though I didn’t understand anything, it was the crappy plastic chairs playing havoc with my back and posture. The monk was hilarious, the crowd often erupting into laughter and I could feel the ease within everyone. He even joked about me and was sad that I couldn’t understand what he was saying. Of course the whole crowd turned to look at me. I think I’m just know locally as ‘that farang’ who lives here. Amy translated a lot for me so I got some of the fun. At the end the monk opened up his homemade accoutrements to make a little extra cash. People gotta eat I guess.

In contrast, I finally heard what happened to Kimi and discovered that Muslim tradition requires the body to be buried as quickly as possible. I don’t know what kind of ceremonies happen around that and I’m guessing not everyone in his family would have been able to attend this.

Kimi had been finalising some concerts for some European bands and the Kuala Lumpur concert will happen this coming weekend. I will fly down to meet Kimi’s wife and all our mutual friends. I will treat the concert somewhat as a memorial to my great friend.

These coincident deaths have obviously brought sharply into focus thoughts around death but as I wrote last time, these thoughts are still confusing. I’m still processing it all.

I’m very grateful to have made friends with Kimi 12 years ago and to have felt such a connection that we remained in contact over this time, worked together often and I visited him many times and he always showed me his big heart; giving me excruciating massages, taking me jungle river swimming and one time directing me into the ocean filled with jellyfish – a story that is repeated for everyone on every visit. He didn’t piss on my jellyfish sting but I know he would’ve if I had asked him.

23 years, 26 years, 52 years, 90 years. It’s not enough for anyone. Soon, all our names will be forgotten, let’s remember whilst we can.

Come hither, my lads, with your tankards of ale,
And drink to the present before it shall fail;
Pile each on your platters a mountain of beef,
For ’tis eating and drinking that bring us relief:
So fill up your glass, For life will soon pass;
When you’re dead ye’ll ne’er drink to your king or your lass!
Anacreon had a red nose, so they say
But what’s a red nose if ye’re happy and gay?
Gad split me! I’d rather be red whilst I’m here,
Than white as a lily and dead half a year!
So Betty my miss, Come give me a kiss;
In hell there’s no inkeeper’s daughter like this!
Young Harry, propp’d up just as straight as he’s able,
Will soon lose his wig and slip under the table,
But fill up your goblets and pass ’em around
Better under the table than under the ground!
So revel and chaff As ye thirstily quaff:
Under six feet of dirt ’tis less easy to laugh!
The fiend strike me blue! I’m scarce able to walk,
And damn me if I can’t stand upright or talk!
Here, landlord, bid Betty to summon a chair;
I’ll try home for a while, for my wife is not there!
So lend me a hand I’m not able to stand
But I’m gay whilst I linger on top of the land!

Drinking Song from the “Tomb” by Rudimentary Peni

Salut!

Father, maternal grandfather, mother “centre of my orbit”, henry st. clair he was my friend, two-gun bob, auntie and me – 21st February 2020

The cacophony of modern life also stops us from listening. The acoustics in restaurants can make it difficult, if not impossible, for diners to clearly hear one another. Offices with an open design ensure every keyboard click, telephone call and after-lunch belch make for constant racket. Traffic noise on city streets, music playing in shops and the bean grinder at your favorite coffeehouse exceed the volume of normal conversation by as much as 30 decibels, and can even cause hearing loss.

– Kate Murphy (New York Times, Talk Less, Listen More)

First, please quiet the noise in my head.

The events of this past week have put me in a spin. Even as the sadness recedes somewhat, images pop up randomly, memories flicker; a pre-tear feeling appears in my chest and throat but is soon countered by my rationality and tucked back away.

While my mind wanders less there is a lack of clarity around my thoughts. A directionless, purposeless meandering. This is a different feeling to the one I was experiencing previously. Where I could sit in my class and concentrate with students running, shouting and screaming. Now it drives me crazy.

Image: Nick Blinko

All this adds up to limit my engagement, to cloud my listening ability. I can hear but I’m not listening.

Listening is a difficult skill to master. Made even more complicated by the sound-byte outrages of social media culture. I don’t feel that I have ever been able to listen properly. I want to practice the quietening of my own thoughts and be more fully engaged, whether in conversation, in watching videos and movies and to attempt that euphoric emotion when really listening to music.

I keep reminding myself to talk less, to shut up a little. Not to jump into what I want to say, to make my point or to win the argument. Just listen. And think.

Damn, this was hard to write today. It’s probably reflected in the scattered approach and execution. But every day I accept the challenge. Put words down on paper. Get thoughts out. Think, until clarity.

Hello and welcome to inconclusive arguments in today’s conference we have a psychologist, a guru, an athlete, a freak, a scientist, a dictator, an anarchist, a mass murderer, a composer, a human vegetable, and a complete outsider. let’s open the discussion with you, er huh what gives? that look of revelation on the athelete’s face – the complete outsider is the centre of attention – just what is the human vegetable doing to the psychologist, the freak is eating the mass murderer, o my god terrifying vistas of reality and our position therein are being opened up to us all, this is the worst thing that’s happened to mankind and in the studio they’ve opted for a new dark age but your commentator has gone stark staring mad.

– New Dark Age by Rudimentary Peni

Main image – Chris Neate

I lost my membership card to the human race – 17th February 2020

It’s amazing how one emotional event can soon be overshadowed by a larger one therefore putting the first into more perspective. On Friday I fought for what I believed and ended up in a cloud of destructive self doubt. On Saturday it all became irrelevant.

I try to clear my mind. Breathe in and breathe out. Focus on it. Thoughts come charging, running across my imagination. Focus. Re-focus. But they come too quickly, from all sides. Emotions rising from my belly, adding to the darkness inside.

I started writing a diary in 1994 after my best friend Steve Burgess passed away aged only 23. I kept that up for the year that saw me move from England to Australia. I continued writing bits and pieces over the years and then in 2018 I decided to start this blog and document another transition moving from Australia to Thailand. The final move date was decided by my mother’s passing in February 2019.

Now I have to write again about another best friend passing away, this time not significant of anything. Just another Saturday. He was 36 years old.

I’m shocked and devastated. I don’t have many people I would consider as close friends and now another has gone. Rationally I know it happens, it happens to everyone. Everyone you know will be gone. Everyone you love. But I’m not feeling rational again yet. Just let me be like this for a while. I’ll be ok.

I love you Kimi.

I’m starting to see why people find comfort in religion. Their faith counters our natural fear of death. If it all boils down, that is all it is. And that’s fine. I have to learn to deal with my fear of death by living now. The fear of death should make us happy.

Twenty years ago, saw a friend walking by and I stopped him on the street to ask him how it went – 16th February 2020

There’s a vast difference between the habit of getting by, and the habit of getting better.

This switch from the old way was easy of course, because in the meantime I’d become an adult—I’m running a far more capable system, I just hadn’t thought to update the software.

– Raptitude newsletter

As I sit writing this at lunch time, I am surrounded by 40 children in the classroom, running back and forth, banging tables, experimenting with musical instruments, attempting homework or chewing on sugary candies. Each shouting over each other to be heard, some making fun, some making fists, some making affections. Some dance, some pull faces, some expressing themselves quietly in their own minds before releasing a new found energy burst that no one cares to notice.

Why can’t I practice this now? Where did my time go? Why does the weight of responsibility bear down on me now? Why do we grow up and what does it mean?

There’s a balance to be found somewhere within your own personal timeline. Do not close the mind off, do not become the old fogey that doesn’t understand the kids today and complains that the music isn’t what it used to be. You’ve had your turn, so what are you going to do now?

You need to upgrade your software. The hardware will continue to fail at a more rapid rate and software is the only way to deal with this problem. Otherwise you will become redundant and end up dusty on a garage shelf, waiting for recycling one day.

Forever entropy

I got by for a long time. Instead of doing proper software upgrades I tinkered randomly and blindly with the code. I put them off for as long as possible in a vain effort to maintain an ideal of youth. But youth is clumsy, ugly, grasping for meaning in a darkened room, grasping for skin in a passion of tears.

The light at the end of the tunnel ever approaches – we know one day we will see the light. Let’s get better – this is no time to be getting by.

……and all he did was cry
I looked him in the face, but I couldn’t see past his eyes
Asked him what the problem was, he says “Here is your disguise”

They will crawl up in your skin and they will come out from the walls, if you let them – 13th February 2020

What do you believe that others do not?

– A daily writing prompt from stoameditation.com

I believe in fairness, justice, learning, compassion etc…  but so do many other people….

Perhaps there are things that other people believe that I do not, such as gods, more money will make you more happy etc…  Many people believe those things too though.

I feel like this is a trick question and should force you to contemplate all the things you do believe.  When you examine them all maybe there will be something there that no one else believes?

Is there anything that one person might believe that no one else believes though?  Even something obscure is likely to be believed by another person somewhere in the world. As you voice it for the very first time, someone else might agree!

What about this? Is there something you used to believe that you no longer do? When you stop believing something you sometimes block it out and disown it as if you never really believed it. Did I used to believe in ghosts? Some strange things happened that I couldn’t explain then but can explain now. Is that just learning and growing away from ignorance? Is it possible to grow so far away from ignorance, to be able to explain everything, to no longer have any beliefs? Is that some sort of nirvana the Buddhists idealise?

If you believe we live in a simulation then do you really know that one foot goes in front of another when you are walking or do you just believe it is so?

This stupid question has raised more than I’ve been able to answer. Ok, good. Keep the old brain ticking.

I’m off to start on my list of things I believe.

Who called?
What the hell did they say?
Get off the telephone right now
Don’t throw another minute away

I would be your whipping boy, if you look into my eyes – 12th February 2020

There are two important components of jerkhood.

First: an implicit or explicit sense that you are an ‘important’ person.
Second: an implicit or explicit sense that you are surrounded by idiots.

– Eric Schwitzgebel (blog extract)

Hands up if you’ve ever been a jerk? There should be no hands down. Please comment if you have never been a jerk. Not even once.

Here’s all the times I was a jerk…….

No, no, no, I’m not going to do that! Not here anyway.

I wonder if we actually are surrounded by idiots, or if those people have chosen a simpler path that just makes them appear to be idiots to others. They must have some redeeming qualities.

As individuals we seem to be quite together, perhaps even inconsequential, yet when we get together to form systems or groups we often devolve into idiothood.

Sometimes I wish I was ignorant and close minded. Then the truth – the reality – doesn’t matter.

So, I’m sorry to everyone who ever felt that I was jerk to them. I’m trying.

Well, I feel bad
And I’ve felt worse
And I’m a creep
And I’m a jerk

Paycheck to paycheck, living for what? Every night I get drunk to get sunk – 11th February 2020

The continuum of Problem-solving:

You solve the visible problem.

You solve the problem that caused the visible problem.

You avoid the problem.

When solving visible problems, it’s easy to signal value creation to others. If you work in a large organization with a regular paycheck, few people ask if the problems should exist in the first place. Instead, everyone thinks you’re indispensable because you’re so busy solving problems.

As you move toward avoiding problems before they happen, visibility decreases. Explaining what you do all day becomes harder and more subjective. Rewarding people for something that didn’t happen is very difficult. Thus, it becomes risky for the employee to avoid problems.

From Farnam Street’s Brain Food Newsletter

“If you work in a large organization with a regular paycheck, few people ask if the problems should exist in the first place.” Reading this took me right back to my old IT office job.

I really loved that job when I first started. It was overlooking Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. I worked my ass off to learn as quickly as I could. Years later I was rewarded with a technical administration position, which was better than it sounds.

It was a steep learning curve which involved a lot of testing, installations, maintenance, programming and 24 hour support. The product was a top of the range piece of software. It had just turned the year 2000 and money was flowing freely through the institutions that were supported. Work was interesting and fun.

Slowly, money started to dry up and upgrades were delayed. Often the users would demand it whilst their finance departments would not agree to pay for it. These battles went on consistently for about a decade. During that time all that I needed to do was to make sure the thing kept running. My typical work day could be over after 5 minutes of checking emails. So I made good use of the super fast internet, the office supplies and the printers.

Eventually they started replacing the product I was supporting with a cheaper alternative. Of course users complained because now their minor problems were turning into major problems. To save money, costed money. But it was more cost effective for my employer to pay penalties to the customer for fuckups than it was ensure the fuckups didn’t happen in the first place.

Eventually, after 13 years of arguing for better planning and products, sitting quietly doing my own things on company time, I was made redundant. It was an amazing relief to be honest, and it changed the course of my life. Much for the better, I like to think.

Now, wherever I am working, I can see the same redundant systems in place. The ‘work smarter, not harder’ mantra hasn’t managed to infiltrate everywhere as yet.

It won’t work,
Won’t work no more….