Smooth Dolphin ramblings

Chapter 8 – Writers Block

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Its fair to say, I have reneged on my new years resolution to update this website more frequently. Aside from a Tribute to Professor Stephen Hawking, I haven’t written on here this year. I can only explain this as being due to writers block, and quite frankly, I have been doing all the wrong things to overcome this. I have made excuses that I’ve been too busy, but honestly, these entries only really take about half an hour to write at most and I haven’t been so flat out busy that I couldn’t find a measly 30 minutes to write something.

Refusing to write until you feel “inspired” and just waiting for inspiration to come along means you’ll never write again. Inspiration comes from life experiences, which I confess have been lacking somewhat for me this year. This is not a post about self pity, it has been necessary this year to right a few wrongs in my life and quite frankly, as much as life admin that I have had to do has been necessary, reading about a trip to the bank or taking out a loan doesn’t make particularly interesting reading.

Inspiration comes from the places you least expect. Inspiration does not come from watching TV (which I do very rarely), it does not come from magazines and it certainly doesn’t come from just mooching around the house. The stuff I write about isn’t supposed to be awe inspiring. I’m never going to be writing about my experiences of space travel or the view from the top of Everest (the mountain, not the window company – although saying that, I cant imagine my career taking me to the top of the company either). I just write about random stuff that just happens in day to day life. So why have I been struggling for inspiration?

Writers Block

Honestly, I started writing this entry without really knowing where I was going with it. Seriously, I have no idea what the next sentence is going to say. I just kind of started writing and decided to power through. And as I write, I realise that it hasn’t been the case for the last 8 months that nothing has happened that is worthy of writing about, I’ve just not been paying attention. Maybe I’ve been a little pre-occupied but that’s no excuse.

Writers block can be caused by pretty much anything. That’s what makes it so impressive that people like Enid Blyton have been able to churn out hundreds of reasonable books and people like JRR Tolkein and Stephen King have been able to write such significant novels. The longer I’ve left it to write on here, the harder its been to come back to it. That stops now. I know that this hasn’t been the most riveting post in the world, but the only way to overcome writers block, is to start writing. I have realised over the last month that actually, I need this blog. Its a way to chat the random shit that goes through my head even if I’m writing totally irrelevant nonsense. So as much as I hope (if you’re still reading this) you haven’t been bored to tears, this one isn’t for you, its for me.

Mr Stephen Hawking

So this is something of a departure from stuff I normally write about, but Mr Hawking was one of the most incredible, influential, intelligent, ingenious and inspirational people of our time. And my use of adjectives beginning with the letter I are not borne out of some weird obsession or OCD (not on this occasion anyway), but more of a convenient co-incidence.

Hawking was diagnosed with a rare and slow progressing form of motor neurone disease very shortly after he turned 21 years of age. As he was preparing to marry his first wife in 1964, doctors gave him no more than 2 – 3 years to live. This was to be the first of countless times that this great man were to astound leading doctors and scientists. He managed to outlive not just his predicted 3 years, but also what turned out to be a 30 year marriage, followed by a further 11 year marriage, followed by another 12 years.

His mobility clearly declined constantly over this time, however never once did he let this stop him from achieving amazing things – not least of which include 3 children who have grown up to be a novelist & journalist, a multi-lingual loyalty executive for lego, and a software engineer.

Upon visiting the CERN laboratories in Switzerland in the early 1980’s Hawking suffered from Pneumonia which was life threatening when compounded with his pre-existing conditions. Doctors considered him “so far gone” that they were considering switching off his life support machine. Following protest from his wife, he was able to return to the UK for further treatment and was then able to lead what was described s “close to a full and active life”.

Despite his significant scientific prowess – Mr Hawking was not an ignorant man. He was very respectful of the views of others – particularly when it came to religion. An Atheist himself, he made clear his belief that the universe is governed by the laws of science. He stated “There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, and science which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works”. He also stated however in what I believe is a demonstration of his respect for the beliefs of others: “The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws”.

During his career, he inspired some other truly amazing scientists who are making regular groundbreaking discoveries, and through his involvement with popular culture (with iconic appearances on The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory), has at least raised the curiosity of younger people if not having convinced them to make a career from science themselves.

And not once has he achieved these great things in the name of personal accolade or for his own credit, but for the good of the human race and allowing it to progress, protect itself and better understand the universe beyond our limited comprehension. This demonstrated by the fact that he never won a Nobel prize. Having an astounding capacity to visualise scientific outcomes without calculation or experiment, his theories have been regarded as most likely and in some cases proven by others in the scientific community.

Allegedly he was offered a knighthood in the 1990s, however due to his belief that the UK was not funding scientific study enough, he chose not to accept this. As far as I can tell. Mr Hawking never confirmed this story personally, however I find it hard to believe that the offer of a knighthood was never made to this man who has undoubtedly contributed significantly to science. For me this shows how heavily principled Mr Hawking was, who would not push his beliefs to one side, even for arguably the highest honour the United Kingdom has to offer.

Having dedicated his life to discovering a unified theory of everything and endeavouring to prove string theory (which most of us cannot even grasp the concept of), Hawking was relentless and determined with everything he did – even knowing that string theory may itself be impossible to actually prove. This extends to how he lived his life personally. He once wrote that he had motor neurone disease for practically all of his adult life, but that it had not stopped him from having an attractive family, or from being successful in his work. He said: “It shows that one need not lose hope”

I think my mind works differently to others in some respects. For many, beautiful is an artistic masterpiece, mountains and rivers against the backdrop of a perfect sunset or Jennifer Lawrence. And I wouldn’t disagree, but for me, beautiful includes the thinking and ideas of people like Mr Hawking, Elon Musk and the person whose tweet I will be ending this with – Mr Neil DeGrasse Tyson:

“His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it’s not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure. Stephen Hawking, RIP 1942-2018.”

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Chapter 7 – Goodnight 2017

I haven’t written on this for ages. about 4 months in fact, so, sorry about that. I’ve been averaging about 15 emails a week from you and I confess I haven’t had the chance to read them all yet, but I will get to them all! Not that I’m making excuses – I could have made the time, but to be honest, I have been a bit busy and have been lacking motivation – not only for this but in many aspects of my life. But its the end of the year and this is as good a time to change my outlook as any.

The end of a year is a time for reflection, for taking in what has happened over the last year, what you want to leave behind and what is important enough to take with you into the next. This brings be to my first new years resolution – I vow to add to this blog more frequently and reply more promptly to anyone who takes the trouble to contact me.

So what has happened over the last year? Well I’ve loved and lost, trusted and been betrayed, given and been taken advantage of and in may respects got a lot of my priorities wrong. For me, in many ways, 2017 has been a fail. But as I have been trying to explain to a certain friend over the last few months, failure is not a negative, but an opportunity to learn and to fix what is broken. So while there are many things that I regret from 2017, these are the things I can leave behind, and I move forward into 2018 feeling strangely unburdened as metaphorically leave the negatives at the roadside and accelerate away from it. This leads me to the second of my 3 new years resolutions – I vow not to dwell on the things that I cant change and to focus my efforts instead on the things I can.

But New Year isn’t just a time for reflecting on yourself, it’s a time to reflect on others and on the bigger picture. And worldwide, the news this year has been pretty bleak. We have lost many good lives to terrorism, to natural disasters and to avoidable disasters (Grenfell – my thoughts are particularly with you at this difficult time). Someone I can only describe as sub-human has somehow taken the office of “most powerful man in the western world” and in doing so has raised the threat of terrorism, both domestic and internationally and has made North Korea a genuinely scary looking place rather than just a funny little sideshow. Britain continues to shoot itself in the foot without truly understanding why, Las Vegas experience a terror attack of its own (and yes it was clearly a terrorist attack – just because the shooter wasn’t Muslim doesn’t mean they weren’t a terrorist – similarly just because someone is a Muslim doesn’t mean they are a terrorist), Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria, there continues to be war in Syria, famine in Somalia and genocide in Rohingya. I honestly wonder how people can live with some of the things they do and the effect they have on others.

So basically, 2017 can do one, especially as Jaffa cakes have gone from packs of 12 to packs of 10. But we must remember, it wasn’t all bad news – we should take solace from the fact that there have been some huge positives in world politics (Macron’s win against the odds to beat down the rise of racism in France, Corbyn reminding Britain that we’re not all self-serving, uncaring arseholes, Hillary Clinton actually won the most American votes against the vile Donald Trump. And in other news, China have banned the domestic ivory trade saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of elephants per year, many endangered species are no longer endangered (snow leopards, giant panda’s and hump-backed whales to name a few), The Queen still hasn’t given Trump a state visit, astronomers have found 7 new earth like planets, scientists in Holland might have discovered a way to reverse ageing and equality worldwide has made huge strides forwards. The hole in the o-zone layer is getting smaller and Katie Hopkins finally got fired. These are positive things from 2017 that we should hold tight in its final hours and take forward to 2018.

But those positives wouldn’t have happened without good people. And there aren’t enough of them either. So my third New Years resolution is to be a better man. I aspire to echo the bravery of our emergency services which we have seen in spades over this last year, to mimic the kindness of the 1.2 billion people who’s google search began with “how can I help…” and to honour those who have lost their lives this year (albeit unwillingly) to highlight the real problems facing our world today, so that their deaths can mean something, by being the change that makes a difference in peoples lives.

And finally, I would like to wish you all a Happy 2018 – I’ll speak to you all again next year!

Chapter 6 – Mid-20’s Crisis

The term “mid-life crisis” is often used as a comical term. It is usually used to explain when a person gets to a certain age and the suddenly decides to buy a Lamborghini, move to Canada or drastically change their career. It is not only a facetious way to describe irrational behaviour though, it is a valid medical term & extensive research by professionals has been carried out (although I wouldn’t bother reading it – it’s not particularly exciting.)

But this isn’t about midlife crisis’s (well I hope not anyway, otherwise I have a worryingly short life expectancy). I’m 27 next month and in the last few weeks a number of people have asked if I’m having some sort of mid-life crisis. I’m obviously giving off these signals. And to be fair, I have noticed something of a change in my personality. I’ve become somewhat irresponsible with money, started this website, come dangerously close to buying a second car which i definitely don’t have the need, nor means to pay for and considered putting a months salary on red at the roulette table. Thankfully, I have managed to stop myself doing anything too stupid, but have undeniably become more reckless.

 

But I don’t think I’m alone. Not by a long shot. Life in general is much faster paced and more stressful than it was 52 years ago when Elliot Jaques first coined the term “mid-life crisis”. By my age, many people are on their third or fourth child, second marriage, have managed a team of people and have paid off the finance on their desired car. And if any 20 something year old is honest with themselves, they’re not prepared for this responsibility. Before, there was no stress or pressure over buying a house, people could feasibly do it by the age of 23 and that security of being on the property ladder gave them a safety net which gave a good grounding for the rest of their lives, which didn’t include may of the responsibilities we face by that age today.

This can only be achieved nowadays by virtue of luck or wealthy parents (which, as you have no control over your heritage, is still down to luck). I’m not saying this is the only cause of a mid-20’s crisis, but if you’re not lucky enough to have wealth family or win the lottery, you’re much more likely in my opinion to be susceptible to the mid-20’s crisis.

You reach a point where you haven’t necessarily done anything wrong, but it feels like friends and people you used to go to school with are further on in your life, whilst yours is not going to plan at all, or there’s a sudden change in your life which rewinds your progress to no better off than when you left school. At this point, you start to question what you’re working towards. Then kicks in the “fuck it, just be impulsive” attitude and irresponsible behaviour that looks very much like a mid-life crisis.

But maybe it’s a good thing. I refuse to believe I am the only one this is happening to, and i suspect that my fellow mid-20’s crisisers and I are, darwinianly speaking, on to something. We’re young enough to get this out of our system, set out a new series of life goals and thanks to a longer life expectancy than our ancestors, we have a chance of achieving them.

If this is the latest evolutionary trait for humans as I suspect it is, we can expect the mid-20’s crisis to become more and more common, replace the mid-life crisis and see a more successful and affluent generation. Here’s hoping anyway…

Chapter 5 – When is a favour not a favour?

I’m sure I must have seen stuff like this happen before. But the fact that it stuck in my mind makes me wonder if I don’t see it enough. I think about it and honestly, I can’t remember the last time I witnessed a random act of kindness. It was only a little thing. Sat in traffic near a bus stop, I saw a man who must have been in his 90’s. I mean honestly, he looked like a tortoise without its shell on. He was leaning against the wall, (presumably waiting for a bus – either that or he was enjoying the effect of the traffic fumes) with his walking stick leaning against the wall next to him. It was a windy day, and from where I was I saw the walking stick get blown over and land several feet away from him. A young girl (I’d guess about 15 years old) saw this and crossed the road between the stationary traffic for no other reason than to pick it up for him.

“What a nice little story” You might think. And you’d be right – it is. But it shouldn’t be newsworthy. Be honest here – how often have you seen a stranger suffer a mini-misfortune like this and thought “that’s unlucky”, or seen someone who is clearly having a worse day than you and thought “that’s a shame”. And how many times have you done something to help them?

And here lies the first of 2 issues I will outline today. Call me a sanctimonious masquerading hypocrite because I am one, but why are we all (bar a handful) inherently incapable of helping these people out? Are we too busy? Too important? Or just too wrapped up in ourselves? I suspect it is the latter. I know I’m guilty of that. I’m often in a rush to get somewhere, but not so much so that I don’t have 10 spare seconds to hold open a door for a wheelchair user. And I’m definitely not too important. So the only explanation for when I pretend not to have noticed, is selfishness.

Selfishness is built in to human DNA. That is an unfortunate fact. Hopefully at some point, evolution will stamp this out of us, but for now, maybe we should make a conscious  effort to override that aspect of our genetic make up and start improving each others lives.

And actually, that little bit of extra effort makes a big difference to peoples lives. That elderly man could not have looked happier at that moment. It had taken the girl minimal effort and about 2 minutes. I’m not taking anything away from her here, it was indeed a very kind act and she would have had to consciously decide to go out of her way to help him. So she might have been 2 minutes late to work or to meet a friend (although she shouldn’t have been has she planned ahead properly, but that’s a ramble for another day), but that 2 minutes was worth so much more to that man than it was to her (not least because statistically she has a lot more minutes left on the clock than he does). And herein lies the second issue I want to raise with you all today.

That man had evidently decided that her 2 minutes was worth £10.00 He had secured his walking stick, then reached for his wallet and extracted a £10 note which he held out to the girl. Thankfully, the girl appeared to politely decline this, smiled sweetly at the man and went on her merry way. I am saddened that this chap had felt the need to pay her for this favour, and this behaviour is all t0o common. Don’t take this to mean I am basically pissed of with the man, It was nice of him to offer, I just think it’s wrong that he felt the need to when a smile and a thank you would have done nicely.

It is a sad reflection on society that we can’t give a friend a lift, pick something up from the post office or lend someone a tenner til payday without recompense being either offered or expected. At that point, it ceases to be a favour and instead becomes a contract. And if you’re entering into a contract to earn money, I expect tax to be paid on that income, but again – that’s a ramble for another day.

So if you’re still reading this, I want to ask you a favour. Just once a week, do someone a favour. Go out of your way (for a friend or a stranger) to improve their day. It’s free, easy and rewarding to do. And if you really need an incentive – I will thank you now in advance.

Chapter 4 – Christening

To my mind, there are 3 types of attitude which people have towards family events.

Category A: People who live for these events and will sacrifice anything else in their lives to make sure they are able to attend & will go to extreme lengths, committing unholy amounts of time and money to make these events memorable.

Category B: You make the effort to go if you’re free, but you sort of feel guilty about missing most of these occasions because other things still happen and the world doesn’t stop turning because there’s a party happening somewhere.

Category C: You can’t stand these occasions & will go out of your way to avoid going to these events. You will deliberately book yourself up so you have an excuse not to go.

I place myself in category B, which, like me, is the most socially awkward of the categories. Last weekend, I found myself in the unusual position of being able to got to the Christening of my cousins latest addition to the family. Because I’ve missed so many events in the past, it’s frankly incredible they remember to invite me to these things at all. They’ve given up inviting me to family barbecues anyway, which – given my previous form – is absolutely fair enough.

So I sneak into the church as undetected as possible and sit through the ceremony. And I realise that no matter how expected it is, however much you mentally prepare yourself for it, no sound is quite as stressful as a baby screaming. It should be expected at a christening, but the screaming wasn’t coming from the tiny human at the front having holy water thrown mercilessly in her face (she didn’t make a sound the whole day), it was coming from the ever so slightly bigger human in the arms of a couple (who I hoped were its parents), who had turned up 15 minutes late and were in no way subtle about it. They also stuck out like a sore thumb as the only people in the church who were wearing jeans and t-shirts. I found this ruder than if they hadn’t turned up at all.

After the usual relief at not bursting into flame for daring to step into a church, came the reception. Is it still called a reception for a Christening? I’m pretty sure it’s not called a wake. Maybe its just a party… Anyway, I digress. This “Reception” was not being held at a pub. It was not being held at a restaurant. It wasn’t even in a hired function room. It was at someones house. A holiday let for the weekend. Don’t get me wrong, it was a nice house, but for in excess of 60 guests, perhaps not all that practical. So I tiptoed around trying my hardest not to tread on anyone’s feet and saying “hi” to people I didn’t recognise but should probably be quite well acquainted with. They clearly didn’t recognise me either, answering with a cautious “hello?” but the look on their faces screaming “who the bloody hell is this?!”

After this, I decided to walk towards some more slightly familiar faces. The first question I get asked is “so hows the wedding planning going?” To which the only suitable reply I can muster is “yeah, its kind of on hold since we broke up a few weeks ago.” With an awkwardly shocked face, that Aunt walks away in embarrassment. Next is an Uncle who asks “so where is your lovely lady?”… This happens 5 or 6 times over the next quarter of an hour, by which time I feel like I have made enough people want to tear their face off, so rather than standing in the corner keeping myself to myself like lube at a funeral and making anyone who looks in my direction even more uncomfortable, I make my excuses and leave.

Maybe I should consider becoming category C, for everyone’s sake.

Chapter 3 – Modern Communication

I’m still young apparently. I’m 26. People tell me I’m still young and that feels good to be told. But in many ways, I’m much older than my years suggest. Aside from being unable to stand up or sit down without making an involuntary “Ooh” sound, and being quite happy to be sat in front of the telly with a hot chocolate by 2100 on the occasional Saturday night, this is most apparent to me in my attitude towards modern conversation.

I went to the pub during the week and was dismayed by what I saw. 40% of the people in there had their phones on the table next to their drinks, face up as if they were expecting the call to tell them their wife has gone into labour. The other 60% had their phones in their hands. That’s right. I had walked into a room full of zombies where at least half of them were not actually socialising with each other.

Even for my age group, I cant be the only person that finds this disturbing. How can you go to a pub with friends, then spend most of your time talking to other people who aren’t even in the room? If you need to contact someone, either do it without ignoring the people in the room, or, if you really have to, go outside, call them, have a quick conversation and wrap it up quickly, rather than subjecting your friends to the back cover of your phone all night.

I am just old enough to remember being in a pub or restaurant and seeing people speaking to one another across the table. I remember when phones were only used for phone calls and irritatingly short text messages only. I even remember a time before mobile phones, when you were forced to speak to each other with no other distractions. When you had a house phone (remember them?) which sat on a table of its own, perhaps with a pad of paper and a pen for message taking.

And I miss those times. People used to go on walks or trips or holidays and enjoy the sights with their eyes, rather than through a 2 inch screen, or whilst uploading a picture of their breakfast to Facebook. People used to get on a train and read a book made of paper rather than staring gormlessly at level 783 of candy crush. Presidents used to make policy announcements at press conferences rather than on Twitter. It was a classier time.

Do you remember life before emojis and “txt tlk”? This has become almost a second language nowadays. I have a friend who sadly had to have their pet dog put down once. Obviously, this was on Facebook within 5 minutes, and soon followed by messages of condolence from well meaning strangers (most of which i suspect were sent by people who were ignoring their real life friends sat opposite them in a pub). But one person made a mistake which caused the Facebook equivalent of a riot. Rather than the sad crying face, they had (I presume accidentally) sent the “crying with laughter” face. An easy mistake to make, but for people hiding behind their phone screens, apparently not so easy to forgive.

Easier mistakes to make though are the acronyms which the early days of texting invented for us to save us money on the original “pay per character” tariffs. Thinking “LOL” means lots of love instead of laugh out loud is forgivable, especially as it is usually placed at the end of a message and still usually makes sense. However, it is really bad when your message reads: “I’m so sorry to hear about the death of your son. Our thoughts are with you during this tragic time. LOL.”

It’s a minefield. Maybe we should revert to an ancient, yet surprisingly efficient communication method: Talking.