Down Memory Lane Again

Monday I went to Seven Sisters Tube station with a friend, and found myself in Tottenham High Road outside my old college. I was last a student there nearly 47 years ago – I left in mid-1961. Of course Seven Sisters Tube wasn’t there then – the Victoria Line hadn’t been built. It was only a little while before that the trolleybuses had been replaced by Routemasters, as I well remember going to college on the 233 (now W3 bus) then changing to a trolleybus at Wood Green.

It was a very strange feeling being outside the college and remembering my classmates, teachers, etc. nearly half a century ago. The outside had changed very little, though they have now built something on one end of the building which includes the new main entrance.

I went in there, hoping to to have a look around my old alma mater, but alas the security was like Fort Knox. Automatic barriers like they have at Tube stations, and notices saying ‘No admittance without ID’. If I still lived in the area I’d be very tempted to sign up for evening classes, or as a mature student, just to sneak a look around inside.

I can’t see the reason for such high security. Only in recent years it was quite possible to go into other colleges without having to go thru all these security checks, but I suppose in this age of terrorism such measures are necessary. I still think what used to be Tottenham Technical College when I was there, now the College of Northeast London or something similar, is hardly #1 target for Al Quaida.

I did try nearly 17 years ago to pay a visit. This was before the new part was built, and I went in via the old main entrance. That was about as far as I got back in 1991. Even back then, long before Al Quaida, there was security in the form of a woman on the Reception desk who said sorry but former students couldn’t come in and have a look around, nor look up their old teachers, (who had all probably left, retired or passed on to that great Technical College in the sky by then anyway.)

I did manage to sneak a look thru a window at the old quadrangle, and it had changed beyond recognition, with outbuildings cluttering the tiny space.

In 2008 I’d have liked the opportunity to just wander around the corridors, visiting various parts of the building which held memories for me: the library where I spent ‘free periods’ looking at old copies of the National Geographic magazine, the classroom in the older building where Miss Lincey used to teach us, the playground where we assembled to go to Tottenham Marshes for Games with a class of boys from the then new building (there were then 3 buildings – the old one, the new one, and the main one built in the 1930s I guess).

This playground was where Jubbly (so named because he was fond of that orange drink in an odd shaped carton, which could also be frozen and eaten as a huge ice lolly) informed me that my best friend Michael wouldn’t be joining us today for Games, or ever again. He’d been killed by a car  over the weekend, dying in hospital on the Sunday morning, my 15th birthday. I never really got over that – my one and only friend killed. I never made another friend my own age thruout my teenage years. I’d also have liked to have seen the boys’ changing room outside the gymnasium where the few boys in our class spent so much time whilst the girls had PT, but that has probably changed beyond recognition now anyway. The other boys sat and played cards, chess etc. and chatted, whilst I just sat and said nothing, never joining in the conversation or anything else. They called me ‘Sociable’. I wanted to be friends, but just couldn’t. It was a very difficult time for me as I had lots of inner conflicts going on.

Where are you now – Derek Youngman, Colin Roke, Alan Body, Ronald Wheeler and Gerald Wixley from the class above us? Nigel Bradshaw, who was also at my previous school (Bounds Green Secondary Modern) was last heard of in Tunbridge Wells, I got one short email from him via Friends Reunited. The others seem to have disappeared off the face of the Earth and haven’t surfaced on the FR site, nor does Googling them produce anything relevant.

I can’t say my days at this college were happy ones because they clearly weren’t. I had a traumatic teenage, due to hospitalizations and operations I had when I was 13, just before I started at this college. I never made any friends there either because of the trauma caused by two of these operations, and the fact that I was struggling with my sexuality and trying to come to terms with it.

Unable to gain access to my old college, I wandered around for a little bit. Some of the old civic buildings were still there, but the indoor swimming pool we used to be taken to had gone. St Anne’s Hospital as I remember it was the old red building across the green, but this was now private flats – the hospital moved elsewhere like so many in London which have not been closed altogether.

But, sitting in a cafe with my friend almost opposite my old college, brought back memories. It felt very odd. I saw the bus stop where we used to crowd on to the trolleybuses to get home. Often my friend Michael would sit beside me.

The teachers I remember too. Apart from poor Miss Lincey, who really was more suited to teaching primary school or junior school children to rebellious teenagers, there was Mr Tait who got fountain pen ink on the back of his jacket from students (that shows you how long ago it was), Mr Watters who looked somewhat like Oliver Hardy and took Geography and History, Mr Owen who had a sudden brain transplant and turned from a horrible, grumpy teacher to one of the nicest you could wish for, and the principal, Mrs Wright, among others.

What a shame the British don’t keep up the American ‘Class of 61’ tradition whereby classmates meet up regularly thruout their lives. Via Friends Reunited and by visiting my old neighborhoods I did trace a few old classmates and invited them to my Retirement Party last May. Not one even bothered to reply. So obviously class reunions are not popular here for some reason.

Never mind, perhaps it’s best to keep my memories of my old college and my old classmates as they were 47 years ago.

20,000 police on the streets of London

bobby.gif

These were the headlines last weekend, but unfortunately they were not talking about a sudden return en masse of the ‘bobby on the beat’. These were off duty policemen and policewomen demanding more pay.

Normally you will rarely see a policeman or policewoman on the streets, though go abroad and they are everywhere. No wonder there is so much gang warfare and crime on our streets. Dashing around in police cars is no good – the police have to be seen continuously patrolling our streets, armed when and if necessary.

What we have instead are ‘plastic police’, community service officers who have no power of arrest, and just stand and watch crimes being committed whilst they phone for the real police to come. Of course any member of the public could do this, or even make a citizen’s arrest.  By the time the real police arrive, the crime has been committed and the culprits may well have escaped.

So by all means pay the police more, but only when they do their job and get back on the beat. 20,000 police on the streets of London every day of the year, doing their job to prevent crime and make us safe, that is what is needed, then it would not make headline news.

You can’t say they don’t have the manpower (or womanpower) when they can get 20,000 on a march for more pay, when they always find thousands of police when there’s a big football match or demonstration, and on occasions I’ve seen many police trying to entrap motorists without tax disks, or helping bus inspectors catch fare dodgers.

What are all these police doing the rest of the time? Paperwork in police stations, they would have us led to believe. Even if all this paperwork is needed in the computer age, which is doubtful, let the ‘plastic police’ do it and put the real ones back on the streets!

‘Hardened’ and ‘Healthy’ Skepticism

When it comes to things ‘paranormal’ it is wise to maintain a ‘healthy skepticism’, by which I mean not to be too gullible, but at the same time to keep an open mind about the possibilities, indeed likelihood, of the existence of many things which our science cannot yet fully explain.

Whether it is ghosts and hauntings, UFOs, mythical creatures such as the Yeti, near-death and out-of-the-body experiences, mediumship messages, materializations,  etc. I try to weigh up the evidence for and against. In the case of mediums, such as those seen on TV or who write books on the subject of ‘life after death’, their credibility is a major factor.

I have seen mediums who are very credible indeed, I’ve seen some who I am not sure about, and I’ve also read books by some which seem totally unbelievable. One such author writes in such detail with highly unlikely descriptions of an after-life which read just like science fiction novels. Since her ‘novels’ do not fit in with evidence from other sources, I reject them for what they are – fiction, written to fool the gullible and make money.

Some TV mediums seem just too good to be true not just in the accuracy of the messages they give, but in the way they obtain these messages. How a paranormal TV program is conducted plays a large part in whether I find it totally convincing or not. For instance, Colin Fry’s ‘The 6ixth Sense’ was totally believable, despite the very accurate messages Colin, Tony Stockwell and others gave to audience members. This was because of the audience reactions when given messages (they’d have to be Hollywood Oscar-winning actors to fake these), the fact that they allowed photos of their dead relatives to be shown, and above all the knowledge that had they been paid to fake the readings and their reactions, why have none of them exposed the fraud to the tabloids for even more money?

Besides this, I have made the effort to see Colin and Tony perform ‘live’, and got a message via Colin which was very accurate indeed, and which I don’t believe he could have obtained by so-called ‘cold reading’ (i.e. guessing).

On the other hand, there are other paranormal TV shows with other mediums which I find less convincing, not least because of the sensational nature of their content, such as giving accurate readings over the phone to complete strangers. Here again we are faced with the question of why such programs have not been exposed as fraudulent if the people given the readings were paid to go along with a ruse. So the jury is still out for me on some TV paranormal shows, and TV mediums, and I try to keep an open mind.

I recently looked at a skeptics’ message board, and indeed participated in the discussion for a while, till I realized they are like the Flat Earth Society. No matter what evidence you place before them, which in my case included very accurate messages which came direct to me and not via any medium, they will always say it is delusion, wishful thinking, trickery, cold reading or coincidence. They have closed minds, and there is no point in even discussing the subject with them as they will simply not entertain even the possibility of survival. Indeed when they themselves die they may well find such hardened skepticism a real hindrance if survival is a fact, but they can’t accept it. They will likely become Earthbound spirits trapped between two worlds/dimensions because they cannot believe they are ‘dead’.

So it is very important to maintain a healthy skepticism to such matters, and not to close one’s mind to either the possibility of survival, nor the possibility that there is no afterlife.

Similarly with other aspects of the paranormal such as UFOs. It would be a very gullible person who would believe every way-out story, such as people who claim to regularly have sex on flying saucers with beautiful blond aliens, who claim Jesus, Buddha, etc. are observing us from Venusian flying saucers, or that some of the world’s political leaders are secretly aliens trying to take over the planet.

On the other hand, accepting the vast volume of USAF and other evidence for the existence of unexplained phenomena in our skies, which includes witnessed and testified statements by named USAF personnel that secret USAF reports have stated they cannot be of Earthly origin, is another matter. In all this paranormal evidence, the courtroom is a very good guide. If the evidence would stand up in court, then it must be taken seriously. If someone like Major Donald E. Keyhoe could write books naming USAF reports with dates, and key USAF personnel, and never be challenged or sued in court, then this evidence must be taken extremely seriously indeed.

Then we come on to things which fall more into the category of ‘superstition’ than the ‘paranormal’, such as Tarot card reading and astrology. I’m not a believer in these, certainly not in the horoscopes put in some newspapers, which say that everybody born under the same star sign will have similar things happen to them that day. What utter nonsense. If the position of stars at the date/time a person is born have any effect whatsoever on their character, etc. then I have not yet seen convincing evidence of this. But again, I don’t close my mind completely to the possibility as all things in the multi-universe are interconnected, but most certainly all Pisces or Geminis are not going to come into money next week, or all meet beautiful future life-partners.

So what is the definition of things ‘paranormal’ rather than mere superstitions, such as never walk under a ladder, or spill salt? I would say that the ‘paranormal’ concerns events or phenomena for which there is evidence, but which cannot yet be explained by our scientific knowledge, or which do not fit in with current orthodox scientific theories.

‘Superstition’ has no scientific or logical basis, such as the idea that a man with a long white beard created the Earth and the Universe in 6 days, that Eve was created from Adam’s rib, or that a black cat crossing your path is lucky/unlucky. (However it is wise not to walk under a ladder if some idiot with a pot of red paint is perched precariously on it and likely to drop the pot, or the paint, on your head!)

Even the above definition of the ‘paranormal’ is not quite accurate, as the idea of alternative realities/dimensions/ parallel universes does comply with quantum theory. Ever since Einstein came up with his Theory of Relativity and his theories about Time as the fourth dimension, which can be affected by how fast one travels, the physical world we see and sense around us has appeared largely an illusion. Nothing, for instance, is really solid, hence the possibility of other dimensions interpenetrating our own, Time is all relative and all around us are things our five senses cannot detect without special equipment. This includes things such as radio, TV and other broadcasts, all sorts of waves beyond or below our capacity to sense them, and also seemingly many things most people cannot sense/explain which we at present call the ‘paranormal’.

So maintain a healthy skepticism by all means, and do not believe every charlatan who writes books claiming the dead whizz around on ‘gliders’ amid golden palaces, that this invisible world is exactly six feet above our own, or that they are the returning Messiah who is going to save the world.

At the same time, it is extremely foolish to bury your head in the sand and say any evidence which upsets your own personal theories/belief system must be a hoax, fraud or mere coincidence because you have already decided the nature of life and the universe, therefore you are not going to seriously examine the evidence and thereby give it the credibility, or lack of credibility, which a courtroom would.

Changing language

kennethwilliams.jpg

‘How bona to vada your dolly old eek!’

Is it any wonder I and my mother, when watching TV, can’t understand much of what’s going on when the younger generation speak another language from us over 60s?

Watching a TV program with a friend still in his 40s, everyone in the audience seemed to know what ‘dogging’ was, and there were hoots of laughter as people admitted to doing it. I don’t see what’s funny about walking the dog, but my 40-something friend explained that it means having sex in public. Why ‘dogging’ I don’t know – because dogs do it in public? In that case it could just as easily mean lifting one’s leg and pissing up against a lamp-post.

Graham Norton in his trendy show once asked the audience to turn on something or other on their mobile phones, and again everyone (all under 30) seemed to know what the Hell he was talking about. Next thing Norton was rushing about asking: ‘Oh are you Big Boobs?’ etc.. Apparently it is some means of communicating/texting under pseudonyms. But to anyone over 60, it is a complete mystery. I’m sure my basic mobile phone doesn’t have this facility, whatever it is. Wish I could remember what it was called, but age is catching up on me and the old brain cells ain’t what they used to be. Was is  Blue something? Not Blu-Ray, that’s another wretched new gadget to replace ordinary DVDs. Blue Tone, that might’ve been it. What the Hell is Blue Tone/bluetone/blutone? Tony Blackburn telling near the knuckle jokes?

Once, when working in Reception a few years ago, a visitor phoned up to say he’d left a blackberry in the Reception. I naturally told him not to worry about it, as long as nobody sat on it I’m sure it wouldn’t be a problem. But apparently he wasn’t talking about enjoying a snack of fruit of the bramble bush whilst waiting in Reception, and dropping one of the  blackberries on the seat. It is apparently some kind of mini-computer/mobile phone combined.

In this same Reception area a colleague in her 30s jokingly told our handsome young boss in his 40s that he was a ‘chav’. I naturally thought this meant he was a good ‘f***k’ since ‘chaver’ or ‘chava’ in the old gay slang (polari) meant sexual intercourse – hence ‘a good chava’. I just assumed ‘chav’ was an abbreviation of ‘chava’. Apparently it is police jargon for Council Housing and Associated Violence (C.H.A.V.). Bloody cheek! I and my mother have lived in local authority housing on and off for over 50 years, and never have we come across yobs hanging around the lifts in gangs. In fact only 3 of the 10 local authority flats/houses my mother or I lived in had lifts in the block, and two of those were in her sheltered housing blocks for over-50s and disabled people. My present council estate has no ‘chavs’, or ‘yobbos’ as we used to call them, hanging around waiting to commit violence, thank you very much!

As for soaps like Coronation Street and EastEnders I have to turn on the subtitles for the hard-of-hearing to understand anyone under 30 or even 40. There’s Janice Battersby, no spring chicken herself, going on about ‘Chrimbo’, which apparently means ‘Christmas’, and ‘the lecky bill’ which apparently means ‘the electricity bill’, whilst younger cast members in this and other TV programs talk about ‘dissing’ each other, which apparently means ‘disrespecting’. If they talked English perhaps they’d earn more ‘respect’, and in any case ‘dissing’ someone, as they put it, does not mean they then deserve a knife or bullet in the stomach!

There has always been local slang – when I first went up to my partner’s home city of Glasgow, or met his relatives when they came down here, I had to learn a whole new language such as ‘it’s awfy clatty’ for ‘it’s very dirty’, ‘the wains were greetin” for ‘the kids were crying’, ‘she’s away oot fer messages’ for ‘she’s out shopping’, ‘he’s on the brew’ for ‘he’s on the dole’, ‘I’ll tak a fish supper carry-oot’ for ‘Fish and chips to take away’, ‘I’m away oop the factor’ for ‘I’m going to see the landlord’, ‘Gis a pinta Heavy’ ‘for ‘A pint of beer please’, etc., etc.  But you expect such things in foreign parts. We Cockneys had our riming slang – ‘up the apples’ for ‘up the stairs’ or ‘up the frog’ for ‘up the road’, etc.

Certain communities also had their own slang, such as the gay polari already mentioned – ‘vada the eek on the polone’ meant ‘look at that woman’s face’ for instance, and as for ‘bona carts on the homy’ well that was referring to a certain part of a man’s anatomy in approving fashion. The whole point of polari was so straight people couldn’t understand it, so a cry of ‘the sharpies’ or ‘Lily’s coming’ when gay men were up to mischief resulted in them getting dressed quickly and fleeing the scene, as ‘sharpies’ or ‘lily law’ meant the police.

So I can only assume the younger generation have adopted this new language to stop anyone over 25 or 30 knowing what the Hell they are talking about. Such as when I went to a gay club and was told it was ‘Scally-boy nite’ and I was dressed all wrong. Apparently ‘scally boys’ are similar to ‘chavs’ – youths in baseball caps and sports gear. I can assure you many of the guys in the club, whilst they may have been wearing baseball caps to hide their thinning locks, could hardly be described as ‘youths’, but quite a few were. But I’d still like to know why ‘scally boy’? I suppose it sounds better than ‘Yobbo Nite’.

Texting has led to a lot of abbreviations, which we Telex Operators were doing 20, 30, 40 years ago. We initiated texting, as we sent instant messages to other telex operators around the world long before mobile phones were invented, typing things like: ‘C U l8er’. Also the so-called email codes for countries were originally Telex codes. I fondly remember the D for West Germany/West Berlin and the DD for East Germany (known in Germany by its initials – the ‘DDR’).

So next time you pass a group of chavs whatever you do don’t diss them, unless you fancy getting roughed up and perhaps worse by a group of yobbos. Whatever turns you on, m8!

Tears for the GDR.

gdrflag.jpg

Last night they showed on TV the German film ‘Goodbye Lenin’ which I saw at the cinema when it first came out in 2003. It is about a Berlin woman happily living in the capital of the GDR (German Democratic Republic – East Germany). She knows everything is not perfect in her Socialist fatherland, but is constantly trying to improve it. She does not follow her cosmonaut husband to the West, but decides to stay with her children and help build a better Socialist society in the East.

Around the 40th anniversary of the GDR in October 1989 the woman suffers a heart attack then falls into a coma. When she awakes in hospital the Wall has fallen, and Germany is about to be reunited.

Fearing his mother  will suffer a fatal second heart attack if she learns that everything she believed in has been swept away overnight, the son, his family and friends stage an increasingly elaborate ruse involving repackaging Western goods in old GDR packaging and faking GDR TV news programs on videotape to make her believe her homeland is not about to be absorbed into capitalist West Germany.

The final scenes brought tears to my eyes, as the fake news program showed West Berliners clambering over the crumbling Wall to get into the Socialist GDR, which had just announced the Wall was redundant since so many West German and West Berlin refugees were fleeing to the Socialist fatherland. But it was the accompanying commentary which was most moving – that the people of the West had decided that there was more to life than VCRs, shiny new cars and other consumer goods. They wanted to build a better and more secure life for all, one with no unemployment such as existed in the German Democratic Republic for over 40 years.

I was not crying for the mother, who died happy that her GDR was such a success, but for the GDR itself, the first Socialist state on German soil. For the fact that others around me, including one who is staying with me and went to bed rather than watch the film, couldn’t even begin to see what a tragedy it was that 40 years of building Socialism in the GDR had to end with it being absorbed into capitalist West Germany. For the collapse of Socialism thruout Eastern Europe and all the hopes and dreams which went with it. For the collapse of the mighty Soviet Union. For the disintegration of Tito’s Yugoslav federation into warring fascist regimes, and the genocide which followed collapse of the most perfect economic Socialist system in the world. Above all for the loss of all hope.

The tears were similar to those of a bereavement, for this is what it was. Although I resigned from the British Communist Party back in 1976, after seeing the corruption in the GDR and other Socialist States, I never lost hope. Despite the ruling class of bureaucrats and State and Party officials which had distorted Socialism by awarding themselves special privileges and luxuries, much had been achieved in these states: full employment, security in old age, cheap rents, cheap and efficient public transport systems, good education, good health services, etc. Many in these countries also believed in the dream, and shared a genuine feeling of comradeship in trying to build an even better Socialist and, ultimately, Communist society.

Where is this hope and all our lifelong dreams now? I look around, as an old man, and see them shattered and trampled on. No-one cares anymore. They can’t even be bothered to watch films about it. They’d rather watch violent American rubbish. Consumerism has taken over in our selfish live-for-today, I’m all right Jack society. Is it any wonder I hate the world I find myself living in? While there was even an imperfect Socialism, there was hope for the future. The basis of a better society was already there for others to build on. If the will was there, if millions of people had only joined the Party and kicked out the careerists and opportunists, the Socialist and even Communist dream could have been realized.

So I was weeping for the shallow, selfish nature of human kind, who would rather trade a shiny new car or the latest gadget capitalist technology can offer, for a world in which there is no unemployment, no exploitation, no hunger or starvation.

I was weeping because I no longer feel I belong in this world without hope, this world of capitalist consumerism rushing headlong into endless wars over fewer and fewer resources, destroying the environment and our planet at the same time.

If there is any hope where do we look for it? To tiny Cuba perhaps, soldiering on against all the odds a few miles off the coast of Florida? To some of the other Latin American countries such as Venezuela and Ecuador, which are trying to follow Cuba’s progressive lead? Certainly not to China or Vietnam, which have sold out to Western capitalism, nor really to the DPRK (North Korea) with its dynastic form of Stalinism, though perhaps some hope of reform lingers on there until it is absorbed into capitalist South Korea.

Old Communists, like old soldiers, don’t die – we merely fade away. Our dreams shattered, our hopes gone, not understanding the world we see around us, and above all, not being understood by those around us who can’t see beyond the latest reality TV show and shiny new consumer gadget thrust into their eager grabbing mitts. 

Goodbye Lenin indeed, goodbye GDR, goodbye Soviet Union, goodbye Socialism – goodbye all hope for a decent world free from hunger, want, exploitation and war. Perhaps its as well I will soon be saying goodbye to this world and hopefully moving on to something better!

Did Adrian Howard ever exist? Past-life regression.

This relates to a past-life regression session I had under hypnosis way back in 1993. I’d not done anything similar before, and haven’t done so since.

I have no idea whether what I came up with whilst under hypnosis were real memories of past lives of mine, or whether they all came from my imagination, or from stories I’d read.

I seemed to be fully awake, and the whole interview, for that’s what it was like, was taped. The hypnotist had told me I would be unaware of any noises or sounds outside the room as he put me under. The only reason I know I must have been hypnotized was that on the tape I could clearly hear a dog barking outside the window somewhere, but when under hypnosis I didn’t hear the dog.

The hypnotist took me back before I was born to three supposedly past lives. The main one, which we spent most time on, was a man who I said was named Adrian Howard. He was born on 21st January during the 1790s in the Stirling area of Scotland, and died of pneumonia in 1877. He was married to Lily (or possibly Lizzie), and they had two children (Tom and Angela?) Adrian was a farmer who employed people to work his land – mainly growing crops. He also owned a butcher’s shop in Stirling.

I have searched the birth/death and census records on-line for Stirling around those dates, and can find no record of an Adrian Howard. Whether this means I made the whole thing up, got the dates wrong, the place wrong, the name wrong, or whether the records are not accurate is impossible to say. It could even be that Adrian Howard lived in the Stirling area, but was born and died elsewhere, but you’d expect him to show up in the census records.

Only today I learnt of an American skeptic who’d been hypnotically regressed to a past life, that of an obscure painter. After months/years of research he finally managed to trace the painter, and verify all the facts he’d recalled under hypnosis.

As I suspect census and other records, especially in past centuries, are not 100% accurate, I cannot be sure Adrian Howard, or someone with a similar name, did not exist in that area of Scotland at that time. I am sure there are hundreds of thousands of people, including illegal immigrants, unauthorized ‘lodgers’ and the homeless, who are left off census records even today.

Another past life I was regressed to was that of Else, an Austrian woman who lived in Vienna and who was born in 1881 and died in an Allied air raid in 1941, trapped in a basement or air-raid shelter when the roof caved in. She was married to Alfred, a cobbler, and they had a daughter who was in the Hitler Youth.

The other past-life I was regressed to was of a slave girl in Egypt who lived around 1550 BC. She came originally from Mesopotania (modern day Iraq) and was of Turkish descent. She became the mistress of the son of the Egyptian household, got pregnant by him and died from knife wounds during either a ritualistic killing or attempts at an abortion.

Of course I could have made all these characters up from my imagination, I just don’t know. Or they could be real past-lives of mine, perhaps with some of the details not quite 100% accurate. If the birth and death dates are fairly accurate, they could be past lives as none overlap. The girl in Egypt was 1550 BC, Adrian Howard lived from the 1790s till 1877, Else was born four years later in 1881 and died in 1941. I was born four years later in 1945. I just hope I don’t have to come back to this polluted, war-riven planet four years after I die this time. It’s time I moved on to a better place – a sort of Soviet Socialist Heaven where Socialism really works! I’m ever the optimist you see.

I’d like to have another session sometime and see if I come up with the same names, or if I can fill in any of the missing details. If I came up with completely different characters, overlapping the above dates, then I’d know at least one of these regression sessions just produced imaginary characters who never existed.

When is a town not a town?

Answer: when it’s part of, or joined up to, a major metropolis. At least in my book.

It annoys me intensely to see and hear, for instance, London boroughs and shopping centers in these boroughs referred to constantly as ‘towns’ or ‘town centers’. Thus the signs at Clapham Junction station, for instance, which used to indicate the main exit to Clapham Junction ‘shopping center’ now say ‘Town center’. Which town? I was not aware Clapham Junction, or Battersea, was a ‘town’. OK we once had a ‘town hall’ in Battersea, now it has moved to the center of Wandsworth, but neither are ‘towns’ anymore, they are inner London suburbs. In the case of Wandsworth, one of the 32 London boroughs.

I have always accepted place names like Camden Town, Canning Town, etc. but never regarded these as real towns either. I also accept the anomolies of the two cities within a city – the City of Westminster and the City of London, and the many ‘villages’ in the metropolis: Highgate village, Hampstead village, Battersea village. Even New York City has Greenwich Village.

Then why does the idea of many ‘towns’ within the metropolis irritate me so? I don’t know, but it does. It is as though we are all trying to deny we are Londoners, as though we are trying to deny such a city as London exists, and to wipe it off the global map.

Ever since Margaret Thatcher abolished the Greater London Council and delegated its services to the London boroughs, this process seems to have been going on. In fact long before that, in the reorganization which led to the establishment of the GLC in the mid-1960s, the rebellion against being included in the sprawling metropolis of London started.

So all places in northwest  and west London, such as (Harrow, Uxbridge, Wembley, Twickenham) outside the London postal area insisted they were in ‘Middlesex’, a county which hasn’t even existed (except in Post Office addresses) for over 40 years. Similarly Barnet, Romford, Bromley, Croydon, Sutton, Kingston-upon-Thames, etc. all insist they are ‘towns’ in their own right located in, respectively, Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent and Surrey in the case of the last three. They have not been in these counties (except in the fiction of Post Office addresses) for over 40 years either. They are all outer London boroughs in their own right, part of the administrative county of Greater London.

The Greater London Authority has now been established to replace the old GLC, but it doesn’t seem to have the same status or the same powers. So many form attachment to their little so-called ‘towns’ within the metropolis, they forget they are Londoners. So we get, for instance, ridiculous ‘unemployment’ statistics which indicate that certain areas of the metropolis, described as ‘towns’ of course, have high unemployment levels.

This is theoretically impossible. I have never ever worked in my local borough in London. I have always found employment in Central London. If there is high unemployment in any area of London, it must surely be because people are searching for jobs in their local area instead of being willing to travel into the center, at least if you are talking about office work.

If you work in a factory, then London has never had a big industrial center. Factories have been spread all over the metropolis, but it has never had heavy industry. Quite frankly, if you want this type of work then perhaps you shouldn’t be living in London in the first place. Get on your bike!

Fleet Street used to be the center of the newspaper industry, then it moved out to Wapping and places like that, but it became so mechanized that it required far fewer staff so this did cause unemployment, as did the closing of the docks.

We have to face the fact that if you seek employment in the capital the majority of the jobs will be office work, in retail outlets, politics/local or national government, construction or in the public services such as transport or the NHS. Sitting in your home in Wandsworth waiting for a job making cars to turn up, or even an office job, within walking distance of your home is unlikely to be successful. As Norman Tebbit once said, you need to get ‘on your bike’ and look for work. There’s plenty available in the metropolis, and if it is not your kind of work then you shouldn’t be living here.

Having lived in various areas of London during my lifetime, I can only identify myself as a ‘Londoner’. I was born just off Oxford Street in a hospital and we lived at the time in West Hampstead. Most of my school years were spent in Wood Green, and I commuted to college in Tottenham next door. Later I lived in Stoke Newington, then Camden Town, and for the past 35 years in various flats in Battersea. I’ve never got used to living south of the River Thames, and since the river is less than a mile away this is hardly surprising. Most of the places of interest, and of employment, are north of the river anyway, so why travel any further south? I rarely find occasion to do so, so much of south London is still unknown territory to me.

I found myself in Battersea by pure accident. My partner and I were living in my mother’s council flat in Camden at the time, and wanted a place of our own. A friend of a friend had an empty flat in Battersea, so we took it. Soon afterwards I went to the local authority to put our name on the council waiting list, and was stunned when they asked me which part of Wandsworth I would like to live in.

‘Wandsworth?’ I replied, ‘Why on Earth would I want to live in Wandsworth? I have no connexions here whatsoever.’ I explained that although my parents were divorced, they both had flats in Camden, and other relations also lived in North London. We had only taken temporary accommodation in Battersea because it belonged to a friend who had offered it to us.

I might as well have been talking to a brick wall. As far as they were concerned, even back in the mid 1970s, London simply did not exist – I was living in the borough of Wandsworth so that was the only place where I could apply to live as a council tenant.

I persisted: ‘But what about the GLC – they have flats all over London. Why can’t I apply for a GLC flat in Camden, where most of my roots and ties are?’ No can do, was the reply. You have to take a flat in Wandsworth, then you can apply for a transfer. And so I fell into the trap of being stuck in this godforsaken South London borough for the rest of my life.

We got a council flat in a tower block, when the last Labor council in Wandsworth had a policy of moving families with children out of such blocks, and moving single people in. We did apply for transfer north of the River, but discovered only run-down properties rejected by local people in those boroughs would ever be offered to us.  Moving from one part of the metropolis to another, as a council tenant, was not easy. The only way was by mutual exchange. Finding someone with similar accommodation in an area you wanted to live who wanted to move to your area. We gave up in the end, and settled here. Now I’m quite used to it, but still don’t see why as Londoners we can’t apply as council tenants to live in any part of the metropolis we like. It is because London is still not regarded as a ‘city’ like other cities, but as a collection of independent towns.

A similar process has happened in the West Midlands conurbation, for instance. Look at a map, and you’ll see that places like Walsall, Wolverhampton, Sutton Coldfield, Dudley, Solihull, West Bromwich, Smethwick, etc. are all joined up as one huge metropolis with the city of Birmingham. This makes all these places suburbs of the Birmingham or West Midlands conurbation. Instead of being proud to be citizens of such a big metropolis, and adding their populations together to announce to the world they are living in one of the world’s big cities, they prefer to pretend they are all independent little cities/towns.

In the USA they have a different attitude. One American tried to tell me that USA had the biggest city in the entire world – this was in the 1960s. He said, since there was relatively little open countryside between cities and towns, the entire Northeast area between Boston and Baltimore, including New York City, Philadelphia, Newark, and Washington DC was one huge metropolis. When I visited the States I found this was far from being the case – vast tracks of open countryside separated these places. Yet here in little old Britain we have towns/cities which are joined up, and we pretend they are still separate independent places nestling amid open countryside.

There are far too many urban areas in Britain which are now joined up to list them all here, but basically, once your city/town/village becomes connected by urban development with a bigger city or town, your one becomes a suburb of the larger one, and you should be proud to be a resident of the new, larger city.

Many Yorkshire towns/cities are joined up, so Leeds/Bradford, for example, is really one big metropolis with outlying suburbs like Wakefield, Dewsbury and Batley. Sheffield/Rotherham is a similar case.

Over in Lancashire the Manchester conurbation includes places like Rochdale, Oldham, Salford, and places like Stockport and Sale in Cheshire. One day Liverpool/Birkenhead and the Manchester conurbation may all become one huge metropolis, it only requires some expansion of places like Warrington, Widnes, Runcorn and St Helens. They’ll then have to think of a new name for the new metropolis, as Liverpool/Manchester conurbation sounds a bit of a mouthful.

Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland are safe for a while yet, but their relative proximity to each other also threatens their existence as separate cities.

Why we are so fiercely defensive about our towns/cities and reluctant to admit they are now part of an even greater metropolis I can’t imagine. It can only have something to do with British snobbery. To say you live in ‘Croydon, Surrey’ or ‘Harrow, Middlesex’ conjures up a false picture of a little town nestling among the rural woods and fields of England, whereas to admit you live in an outer London suburb lumps you in with dreadful inner citiy areas like Wandsworth where, horror of horrors, the working classes and immigrant communities live.

The ‘green belts’ established after the Second World War prevented a lot of urban sprawl and therefore preserved the separate identity of many towns near large cities, but they may well not last forever. Already the planned development along the Thames corridor means residents of Southend-on-Sea and all places between it and London must prepare to be swallowed up by the metropolis.

It is only the London green belt which has prevented the Medway Towns, Reading, Aylesbury, Luton, etc. from becoming new outer London suburbs. In fact the Metropolitan Line of the London Underground once went beyond Aylesbury. Already many places outside Greater London are already joined, or nearly joined up, to the metropolis. Watford for example which also has an Underground line (it used to have two, but the northern part of the old Bakerloo line to Watford Junction has been handed over to British Rail). Only a few fields separate Watford from Hemel Hempstead and St Albans, which had a red Central London bus route, the 84, at one time. Just a few fields separate St Albans from Hatfield, which is now one urban authority with neighboring Welwyn Garden City and only separated from it by a few fields. So these towns too could easily become new outer London suburbs.

One anomaly is the London postal district area. Covering wider territory than the old London County Council area, it meant places in counties like Middlesex and Essex had London postal districts. When I lived in Wood Green as a schoolboy, for instance, we came under the old and now non-existent Middlesex County Council, but our postal address was ‘London N22’. With the abolition of the LCC and its replacement by first the GLC and now the GLA, the London postal district area is now much smaller than Greater London. But one little area outside the Greater London boundary in Essex, Sewardstone, has the ‘London E4’ postal district, so it can’t claim to be the independent town of ‘Sewardstone, Essex’. Of course it is really part of London, since Waltham Abbey to the north, and also Cheshunt and even Hoddesden, Hertfordshire are now outer London suburbs in all but name. There are few green fields between them and the metropolis if you follow the urban route.

So I would say a town is no longer a town when it is linked by continuous urban sprawl to another town or a city. But it could, I suppose, continue to be called a separate town, like Hoddesden, until it is surrounded on two or three sides by urban sprawl. Below (in blue)  is a link to an interesting webpge which describes the urban area of the metropolis, and makes clear it now includes places like Woking, Hemel Hempstead, Hoddesden, Leatherhead, Dartford and Epsom. http://images.google.co.uk/imgres?imgurl=http://content.answers.com/main/content/wp/en/1/10/Greater_London_Urban_Area.PNG&imgrefurl=http://www.answers.com/topic/greater-london-urban-area&h=435&w=591&sz=591&hl=en&start=13&tbnid=yx_YyGSl1Q6jfM:&tbnh=99&tbnw=135&prev=/images%3Fq%3DGreater%2BLondon%2B%26gbv%3D2%26svnum%3D10%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG

Looking at the cover of my atlas, I see Southampton-Fareham-Gosport-Portsmouth-Waterlooville-Havant are also in danger of being one big conurbation.

Real Life Humor

 Q: What’s the link between all the pictures in the article below? Answer at the end. Click on the pictures to enlarge most of them.

I feel in need of some light relief in the midst of a depressing time of the year when all sorts of things seem to be getting me down. I’ve had no heating/hot water for over a week, but they are supposed to be coming to fix it over the next two days.  In under 3 months I have been sent no less than 7 notices of tax codes from two different tax offices, all of them incorrect, by their own admission after I queried them. And other things that are sent to try us – such as a music magazine I write to/subscribe to and which also sponsors gigs and other events managing, over the last few months, to annoy the Irish, Muslims/Arabs and which has now signed up someone who thinks Dave Copeland did a good job at the Admiral Duncan gay pub in Soho. All we need at future gigs/events is to be looking over our shoulders for the Continuity IRA, Al Quaida and also rightwing lunatics.

So here are a few things people have said or done over the years which have made me laugh. Some were people I knew personally, some people my mother knew, or who her mother knew/encountered. Some I got from the press. All are supposed to be true.

Such as ‘Flop’ Langley, a rather large woman my mother knew as a kid, who’s favorite meal was ‘boil-the-pot’. When my mother inquired what this delicacy was, she said: ‘Well yer know all those bits left over at the bottom of the saucepan when yer cook somefink? At the end of the week we boil it all up together wiv some water. Boil-the-pot, ‘s’luvly!’

Or the man and woman my grandmother overheard talking on a bus. Man: ‘Well haven’t we got anything at home?’ Woman: ‘No, only a few slices of stale bread and some moldy cheese!’ Man: ‘But I’m starving.’ Woman: ‘Well it’s your own fault. If you ‘adn’t got up and put yet coat on she’d ‘ave ‘ad to give us something to eat. Bert was due in from work any minute, and she ‘ad to get ‘is meal ready.’

Talking of ‘starving’, the manager of a charity shop we knew was always grumbling. A woman came in to buy something/donate some clothes and said that she did so admire what the charity did for starving people in Africa and other places. The manager said: ‘Well I’m starving, and they don’t do anything for me. I don’t even get paid.’ Feeling sorry for him, she went and fetched him a take-away meal, most of which he then chucked in the bin. He had breakfasted at Selfridges on the way to work, as he did every morning!

Or Mrs White, another large lady, who lived next door to us as kids. She complained to my grandmother one day: ‘Your kitchen clock’s slow, would you mind putting it right? My ‘ubby was late for work this morning!’ Rather than buy a clock of her own she looked over the garden wall and into our kitchen window whenever she wanted to tell the time by the clock on our mantelpiece.

Into the room upstairs, after the Whites left for a New Town, came Mrs Do-Not-Shout, a Polish woman trying to study to become a doctor. My brother and I would go out into the garden and shout and scream at the tops of our voices just to see her slowly open the window, pop her head out and say in a sing-song voice, and a very heavy Polish accent: ‘Yoo mus’ nod shou-owt!’ My grandfather heard her one morning at the end of her garden behind our chicken shed, reading a book and apparently muttering her prayers. The poor woman was actually trying to study her medical books, and this was the only place she could find some peace and quiet.

Then there was the American tourist visiting Chairman Mao’s mausoleum in Beijing. The Chairman’s ear had become detached from his head, but the Chinese were far too respectful and in awe of the Chairman to point this out. Suddenly, in the hushed silence of the mausoleum with people filing silently past the glass coffin, the American shouts out: ‘Say, that guy’s ear has fallen off!’. Shock, horror! The mausoleum was quickly closed for several days whilst the Chairman’s ear was glued back on.

mao.jpg

Chairman Mao’s embalmed corpse

On a tour of the Soviet Union in 1966, some bright spark in our coach spotted some big iron sheets by the side of the road being moved by crane: ‘They’re moving the Iron Curtain’ he shouted out. Our Intourist guide was not at all amused.

In Leningrad, we had a local guide with flaming red hair which matched her politics. ‘Comrades look left, comrades look right!’ she said thruout the coach tour. ‘There is the glorious statue of Peter the Great’.

 peterthegreatstatuefacingneva.jpg

Peter the Great statue, Leningrad (now St Petersburg)

At lunchtime she gave a little speech: ‘Comrades, you are very ill-disciplined.’ This was because at photo stops some of our number had been slow getting back on the coach. ‘You will be back on the coach at 2pm sharp because we are going to visit the glorious heroic Leningrad cemetery’. 

 piskarevskoye-cemetery.jpg

Piskarevskoye Cemetery, Leningrad/St Petersburg

‘Please miss, we won’t be coming. We don’t like cemeteries,’ said a whining voice from a young girl on the back seat. ‘Nonsense comrades, everyone who comes to the heroic city of Leningrad visits our glorious cemetery, the same as everyone who goes to London visits the grave of Karl Marx’. Yeah, right!

karl-marx-grave.jpg

Karl Marx grave, Highgate Cemetery, London

Nicos, a Greek-Cypriot Communist, was on the trip and added a new phrase to the great works of Lenin: ‘In the workers’ paradise tourists go free!’ He refused point blank to pay his fare on buses, trolleybuses or trams, where the system of payment was an honesty box. He got very dirty looks from other passengers, who clearly didn’t remember that this was the whole point of their revolution – free travel for tourists, well according to Nicos anyway.

lenin.jpg

Comrades, our glorious Great October Socialist Revolution means free travel for tourists!

Another story from my mother’s childhood. A woman had committed suicide by putting her head in the gas oven. A neighbor came home, saw the commotion and asked what had happened, so they told her. ‘Ooh what an ‘orrible way to die to bake yer ‘ead’ she said.

Then there was the family who lived downstairs at one house we lived, divided into four flats. There was Cyril, Queenie, their overweight daughter Carol and Randy the mad dog who was never let out or taken for a walk, was untrained and caused cars to nearly crash if it ever got into the street. One day Queenie had enough of Randy’s constant barking in the backyard, and screamed at Carol, who was going for a walk with us: ‘Carol, take that bleedin’ dog wiv yer!’ Randy, overjoyed at being taken for a rare walk, was pulling at the lead and Carol was puffing away. She said: ‘I ain’t walkin’ wiv this bleedin’ fing!’ picked the poor dog up and carried him the rest of the way. Randy never did get his walk.

One day my mother was rushing off to work and Queenie popped her head round her front door as my mum passed and said: ‘D’ya want it? There’s cows at the bottom of the garden and everyfing?’ My mother didn’t know what on Earth she was talking about. ”Me sister’s ‘ouse in Welwyn Garden City, she wants to exchange wiv your flat, d’ya want it?’ ‘Oh yes yes!’ said my mother, remembering the sister looking over our flat months before and deciding it wasn’t suitable as half of it was sliding down a hill, and a huge crack had appeared. The council had propped it up with huge wooden supports, and after we moved to Welwyn Garden City the house was demolished.

My father perhaps came out with the most surrealist and sexist remarks, which were not funny at the time. Such as being found with horsemeat in the fridge at his restaurant by a Health and Safety Officer and claiming: ‘it is only for the staff, they like it’. Or knocking down a ‘Keep Left’ bollard in the road around Regents Park and saying by way of excuse: ‘It shouldn’t have been in the middle of the road.’ 

 mkeepleftbollard.jpg

Keep Left

My mother was not amused when, on asking for more housekeeping money, he told her to ‘Go up Piccadilly and earn yourself some’. Nor when, on asking why they never went out together, he said: ‘In Cyprus we have a saying: women and dogs stay in the house.’ Another time she asked if he loved her, and if so why did he regularly sleep with prostitutes and waitresses from his restaurant: ‘Of course I love you,’ he reassured her, ‘I also love baked beans but I don’t want them every night!’

You can see why that marriage ended in divorce! So I suppose I’m quite lucky really. My own partner, who died over 16 years ago, was very witty. On a tour of Italy we had visited many ancient sites, and the courier was trying to get us to go on another tour. ‘What is it exactly?’ asked George. ‘Oh some very interesting old Roman ruins’ she replied. ‘Oh no thank you, I’ve been living with an old ruin for the past 18 years’ he replied, referring to me of course.

And there was that poor Welsh widow we met on that, or another, tour of Italy. We were going by coach thru France en route, but she had no French Francs or Italian lire, only Spanish pesetas (we were going nowhere near Spain). All thru the holiday she was trying to get rid of them, but luckily she also had plenty of British money which people were ready to accept. We saw her in Venice holding open her handbag and saying desperately to a postcard seller: ‘Take as much as you want, I’m trying to get rid of it,’ but even he wouldn’t take any of her Spanish pesetas.

Apparently, long before the days of the Euro, she had just gone to her bank/bureau de change with the receipt her husband had got for pesetas when going on their last holiday together to Spain and just asked for ‘More of that foreign money they spend abroad’. She was at least more knowledgeable than staff at an international airport in the United States, where they had never heard of ‘foreign currency’ at all!

I was lucky to get into the States at all. As we neared U.S. Immigration Control, a supposed friend turned to me and said: ‘Do they know you were a card-carrying member of the Communist Party?’ He knew I had been, but they apparently didn’t hear the remark or didn’t take it seriously.

cpgb-card.jpg

CPGB membership cards

A relation of my mother’s, on being offered food, would always whine in a soppy voice: ‘No thank you, I only eat cake’.

My partner’s mother, as straight speaking as he was, took him and his sisters to the cinema in Glasgow where a relation was working as an usherette. After the film was over this relation came up to her and said: ‘Did you like the film, Lizzie?’ ‘A darn sight better than I like you!’ said George’s mother, dragging her brood away from the disliked relative.

That’s it for now. For the x-rated funny stories you’ll have to read my biography of myself and my partner, and some of the outrageous characters we knew. 

A: They all have the same political message, i.e. Keep Left! (OK, Peter the Great was not particularly leftwing, but as you see above, his statue in Leningrad, now St Petersburg, was preserved and revered even by hardline Communists thruout the Soviet era.)

Age of Consent

There has been a heated argument on a music forum I belong to which all boiled down to the differing ages of consent in different parts of the world, at different times.

For instance, Jerry Lee Lewis and his two sisters were all married before they reached 16, and these were all apparently perfectly legal in Louisiana at that time (1950s or earlier). A lot of people will remember the fuss over Jerry’s third wife, Myra, who was a distant cousin, and only 13 when he married her. But this was quite common in that part of the States at the time – Elvis was dating Priscilla when she was a schoolgirl of 14, for instance.

In Spain, the legal age of consent is apparently still 14. In England for years the age of consent without parents’ permission was 21, the ‘coming of age’ birthday at the time. To marry between the ages of 16-21 without parents’ permission young couples used to elope to Gretna Green across the border in Scotland, where the legal age of consent for marriage without parents’ permission was 16.

Also in Britain, the legal age of consent for sexual relations for male homosexuals has changed many times. Before 1967 it was totally illegal, so even if you were both in your 90s you could both be jailed if found out, and many were. In 1967, under very restrictive circumstances, the legal age for gay men was set at 21. Much later, around the turn of the 20th/21st Centuries, it was brought down to at first 18, and then 16 for gay men.

What this means is that in some countries at certain times people were committing crimes which wouldn’t have been crimes in other places, or even in the same place at a different time, and vice versa. If anyone, for instance, slept with a 13 year old, let alone tried to marry her, in Louisiana in 2008, they’d no doubt be falling foul of the law there.

There is much disagreement over the proper age of consent, and despite anomalies like the American Deep South, it has tended to come down over the years. And even in countries where it remains at 16 or older, it is unlikely that young teenagers of 13 or 14 experimenting sexually with others in the same age group would be prosecuted.

Personally I feel 13 or 14 is a bit young if it means much older people can have sexual relations with these young teenagers, because they are not even earning money at that age, and may be confused about their sexuality, and other matters. They can be too easily be persuaded to do something they regret later by an older person who has power over them in the form of money or just their mature years and authority.

But on the other hand I decided I was gay at 13, and although I remained confused and somewhat guilty about my sexual orientation for many years, and remained a complete virgin until my early 20s, the law at that time said as a gay male I was outside the law if I practised my inclinations however old I was. 

Only when I was already 22 (and still a complete virgin, by which I mean I had not had any gay or heterosexual experiences) was the law changed to make gay sex for men legal, under certain circumstances, now I was over 21.

Not until that law was changed did I become sexually active, mainly because it was only the publicity surrounding the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which changed the law for gay men, which made me aware for the very first time that there were others with my inclinations, and I then sought out (with very great difficulty, as there was no gay press in UK at the time) the places where they met.

I still feel I would have grown up a much more balanced and self-assured individual had I experimented sexually in my teens, and now regret not having done so.

I feel what we now have in UK is a reasonable compromise: an age of consent of 16, when most adults either start earning money or getting loans to go to university, but youngsters who have reached the age of puberty under the age of 16 will not be prosecuted for experimenting sexually with each other. This means, in effect, most countries have two ages of consent – one set at puberty, which can apparently be as young as 11, for people in that age group experimenting with each other, and another one usually set at 16 or 18 for everyone else.

The purpose of an age of consent is to protect minors from older predators who may use their power and authority to persuade youngsters to do things they may later regret. So, even though a 15 year old may look much older and consent to sex with an older person, the law in UK and many other places says that, because the 15 year old is not old enough to give his/her legal consent, the older person is technically committing the crime of rape, and could well be prosecuted. Thinking the 15 year old was older than 16 is not an argument likely to win over a court, the onus is on the older person to make sure the younger one is over 16.

This is the current situation, as I understand it. Those who don’t agree with it must persuade the majority that the age of consent should be lowered, and that very young people will not then be persuaded by older ones to do things they are not really ready for and may regret later.

New Year

cndsymbol2.jpg

There’s just as much bunk talked about each New Year as there is about Christmas. Both are entirely arbitary dates picked out of a hat. Why we should proclaim yesterday as the first day of a new year – January 1st, 2008 – is a complete mystery, buried somewhere in the secret deliberations of the early Christian church. We do know, for certain, that the founder of the Christian religion was NOT born on December 31st, 0000, or January 1st, 0001 come to that.

But although most people in the world are not Christians, and whilst other religions have different calendars and celebrate different ‘New Year’ dates, the world at large has accepted for convenience that we are now living in the year 2008, whether you refer to it as AD or the current era, or whatever.

What amazes me is the excitement and optimism which greets every New Year. Why should another period of 12 months be any better than previous ones? We know for a fact that, looking on the pessimistic side, there will be more wars, bombs, killings, suffering, etc.. We also know that at the end of 2008 we will nearly all have lost friends and/or relatives, and none of us can be sure we ourselves will be alive on this Earth at the end of the year.

If you are optimistic you can say as well as many deaths, there will be many births in the current year. Of course, whether increasing the world’s already huge and expanding population is a good thing or not is another question. I personally think China has the right idea – one child per family, and then drastic measures are taken. Thank goodness some of us are not breeders who think their sole purpose in life is to increase a world population to gobble up the planet’s fast decreasing resources. When millions are starving, and when global warming is destroying the planet, it seems to me that birth control and even sterilization is what is needed most, as well as a political and economic system which uses the world’s resources in a responsible manner. We also need to develop sustainable, renewable energy, and get rid of all nuclear power (dangerous and very expensive because of the problem of radioactive waste) and stop burning fossil fuels.

Take Britain, for instance. An island surrounded by sea, with many tidal rivers, bays and estuaries. Have we harnessed the vast energy stored in this tidal power? Hardly. We have a few wind farms scattered around the country, but no serious effort has been made to switch over from fossil fuels/nuclear energy to such things as tidal, wind and solar power.

Capitalism has a lot to answer for. If cars could be made to run on water, the petrol companies would crush such technology because they want to make huge profits from selling the fast diminishing oil/petrol at ever higher prices.

But the human race is ever optimistic. Millions went out and celebrated the arrival of 2008 all over the world, yet within hours people had been deliberately burned alive in a church in Kenya, two teenagers had been stabbed to death in Britain, riots continued in Pakistan following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, and we still live in the Age of Terrorism never knowing where the next bomb or suicide attack will take place.

Nor has the greatest terrorist threat of all gone away – the nuclear one. It is completely unacceptable for any country in the world to develop or hold on to nuclear weapons. These are terrible weapons of indiscriminate destruction aimed at innocent populations, and which would also cause deaths and deformities in those yet unborn. That they have not been banned worldwide, along with other weapons of mass destruction, is not only a war crime on a par with the worst ones committed by the Nazis, but extremely foolish. As long as politicians can claim the right to threaten whole populations with nuclear annihilation ‘to protect our security’ (they call it ‘deterrence’), then they can hardly lecture suicide bombers and other terrorists who plant bombs and kill innocent people to further their own political aims. This is the ultimate hypocrisy. The biggest terrorists in the world today are the leaders of the nuclear powers – Britain, USA, Russia, China, France, India, Pakistan and Israel. Anyone who keeps or develops nuclear weapons and is prepared to use them under certain circumstances is a war criminal and should be treated as such. That also applies, I’m afraid, to all who support such policies. So if you support your country having nuclear weapons, you are guilty of a war crime. Just as guilty as those who supported the Nazis in Germany, and just as responsible for the end result.

It is not acceptable to say these weapons are just for ‘deterrence’. In the first place they have failed to either deter aggressors or help win wars (incidentally the Japanese were already suing for peace before those atomic bombs were dropped on innocent men, women and children in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.) In any case nobody has the right to target innocent populations in the name of ‘deterrence’. You might as well argue that, in order to protect your family, you will wire up a whole neighborhood so that if your home is burgled or an intruder enters it, you’ll blow up thousands of innocent people.

The conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, the Falklands/Malvinas, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. testify as to how totally useless nuclear weapons are, yet they remain a threat to us all. All they have ever done is waste a lot of valuable resources, encourage a very dangerous nuclear industry (which produced horrors such as Chernobyl and Three Mile Island), left us with the problem of nuclear waste and warheads which will be radioactive for tens of thousands of years, and given many people a false sense of security.

America thought it was invulnerable because of its nuclear missiles, then along come a few terrorists in three civil airliners and strike at the very heart of the USA. After 9/11 we should all know that nuclear weapons are worse than useless. Who are these nuclear missiles aimed at? If a terrorist gets hold of a nuclear device and smuggles it into Washington DC or Westminster inside a car or a suitcase in the ultimate suicide mission (and these materials can be obtained precisely because there is a nuclear weapons industry), then where do the American and British war criminals who control the nuclear missiles plan to target them? Randomly at some hapless civilian population in Asia, Africa or the Middle East in the blind hope that they’ll catch some of the planners of the nuclear suicide mission in the nuclear blast? And of course ‘suicide bombers’ are not new – the concept was invented by the USA when, along with  Britain, it developed nuclear weapons for use in the Cold War, making it inevitable the Soviet Union would do the same.

All nuclear weapons ever achieved was to bring us to the very brink of nuclear war in 1962 at the time of the Cuba crisis. A crisis caused by nuclear weapons, and which very nearly destroyed the planet. You cannot claim it as a victory for ‘deterrence’ since had nuclear weapons not existed, the crisis wouldn’t have occurred in the first place.

So I am no more optimistic about 2008 than for previous years. January 1st was an entirely arbitary date anyway.

What I do try to be optimistic about is the long-term future of the planet. I have few reasons for this optimism, but just hope that we will learn to manage its resources better and to develop political and economic systems which are fairer and more stable. Also a global confederation and security force which can really guarantee freedom from war and oppression.

But I have no hopes this will occur in 2008. Things will get a lot worse before they get better, and time is running out. They may never get better unless we really make the effort.

Being a spiritual person, I have hopes that in the long run the positive energies which have helped us to evolve will ultimately triumph over the negative energies. But at times I feel that most highly evolved beings have moved on to other dimensions, and we here on Earth are left with the dregs: the entities who refuse to progress spiritually and who are causing all the wars, troubles and misery this planet suffers. Unless this changes, all I can hope for is that I don’t have to come back to this godforsaken planet in a future reincarnation, but can move on to better things!