Author Archives: davidsblogpage

They sold me a dream of Christmas

At the risk of being likened to dear old Ebenezer Scrooge, and a possible tongue-lashing from the family, dare I suggest that the imminent arrival of the Christmas season is possibly not the magical event that the media would have us believe.

Yes, I know, it’s the season of goodwill and all that; a time for giving gifts and being with family and, if you’re lucky, days in front of the fire, eating to excess and watching endless repeats on the TV. There’s the shopping! Shopping for gifts, shopping for the food and drink we need to see us through, and then there are the sales. What would Christmas be without the sales? Well, relaxed for one thing!

In the days before Christmas, you can see whole families staggering out of Asda or Tesco, trollies positively laden with enough food to feed a small army for a month. I often wonder just how much of those essential, must have provisions end up in the bin. I hold my hands up here; we have been guilty of this in the past, over buying food that we simply cannot eat before it goes rotten. We get wrapped up in the excess of the whole thing and felt compelled to buy up anything that looks remotely festive, even if we aren’t sure we would actually ever eat it.

And why do we buy so much? after all, the shops are only closed for two days, if that. It’s not as if there is going to be a shortage of food in the days immediately after Christmas.

Then there are the sales. Forgive my ignorance here, but why does anyone need to be out at the crack of dawn on Boxing Day? Whatever happened to the January sales starting in January? Do those retail addicts who insist on pandering to the retailer’s greed give a moments thought to the poor souls who have to give up their Christmas just to ensure that they can get their hands on a half-price jacket before the turkey is cold. Maybe if they all stayed away from the shops until after Boxing Day the staff would get to have their holiday as well.

I really feel sorry for the shop staff who have to work over the holiday period for no good reason. I know that there are others who also have to work normally over the holiday season; our emergency services, nursing and care staff, and utility providers amongst others.

As far as I can see, Christmas is a very stressful time of year. The pressure to buy the right presents, to stock up with the right food and drink, and trying to get around all the family, to spend time with people you only see once a year, and to keep on smiling no matter how bad the whole things gets, can be immense. Why do we do this to ourselves?

We do it because, despite all the commercialism and the stress, the spirit of Christmas remains as strong as ever. Whether you are religious or not, it is difficult to avoid being swept up by the whole religious thing. But whatever our beliefs or circumstances, we all need something to look forward to, something beyond the everyday routine. And for most of us, Christmas provides just such a break from the mundane. I for one am going to make the best of the break. It may be over commercialised, it may be stressful and often feel meaningless, but it is one of the few times of the year when most of us, me included, can relax and take stock.

And that is exactly what I intend to do.

And finally… the title of this little blog is taken from one of my favourite Christmas songs: I Believe In Father Christmas by Greg Lake. I love the sentiment as much as the tune itself. Nobody writes good Christmas songs anymore.

Advertisements

Transformation

 

The Weekly Photo Challenge | Transformation

When I saw the subject of this week’s Photo Challenge I thought, for the first time, I can do that one. Transformation can mean many things, some of which are not easy to capture in a single image, at least not without resorting to Photoshop. But when I saw the word transformation I immediately thought of a day I spent last year taking photographs around Liverpool.

Liverpool is a city that continues to reinvent itself. From a thriving dock and industrial centre to Merseybeat and culture, it has undergone an amazing transformation. And for me, nothing captures this more than the buildings that now take pride of place along the former dock roads. This particular shot was taken from beside Albert Dock during a walk intended to capture shape and form. I was first struck by the impressive shape of the new office block beyond the dock. It was only when I viewed it through my camera that I noticed the juxtaposition between this and the Liver Buildings beyond.

And it was only when I viewed my photographs later that I considered what a great example it is, to me at least, of Liverpool’s transformation. As a child, this part of the city was uninviting. The buildings were in decay, industry was in decline and the whole area was a sad reflection of Liverpool’s fall from grace as a centre of power and wealth. In the intervening years, the city has once again become a mecca for culture and industry. The docks may never regain their strategic and industrial importance, but the sheer volume of visitors to this regenerated area would indicate it’s future is more secure now than it has ever been.

In this image, we have the modern block, all glitter and shine, but with no discernable individuality or personality. But rising above it almost majestic in its stature and status, are the Liver Buildings, a true reflection of the city’s past. The two buildings couldn’t be more different, but they each represent an essential part of the city’s heritage and history.

Friday 13th

We survived Friday 13th

Now I am not a particularly superstitious person, but even I take extra care on Friday 13th. Well, who doesn’t? But other than that I don’t take much notice of the usual signs and portents that seem to send so many other people into paroxysms of fear.

It is all nonsense after all. The very idea that simply by smashing a mirror or walking under a ladder you are opening yourself up to any more bad luck than you would face anyway is absurd. I have deliberately walked under many a ladder in my time, and nothing has ever happened as a result. I haven’t even been the victim of the most obvious piece of bad luck, having something fall on me as I passed beneath.

But the coming of Friday 13th is something different. With enough people believing in the worst, it is inevitable that eventually, the worst will happen. So I tend to take more care than usual. But as the days of the calendar are arbitrary and not linked in any way to anything natural, the whole idea that this particular day is somehow ill-fated is particularly absurd.

But there are some very different view of superstition. Some of the worst people for taking superstitions seriously are actors. There are so many things you can’t do or say backstage at the theatre it’s a wonder they manage to do anything at all. Never say good luck, never mention Macbeth (it is always referred to as the Scotish play), and never whistle are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Almost every actor seems to have their own little rituals that they must go through before, during or after each performance.

Another thing I have noticed is that the people who avoid black cats and cracks in the pavement are generally the same people who fall for tales of hauntings and visiting spirits. And once again, theatrical types fall into this trap as well. So many theatres claim to be haunted, but it is only those who work there that seem to believe it all. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good ghost story or horror film, but that is all they are, stories. It isn’t real.

So what exactly is a superstition? I think it is best defined as a belief that by some form of magic or other ethereal power, simple actions or objects can influence events around us. Basically, it stems from ignorance and a desire to apportion blame when things go wrong. It is not too dissimilar from the way people pointed fingers at “witches” in the Middle Ages or God. Rather than accept that we ourselves may at fault for something that has happened, we naturally look around us for someone, or something else, to take the blame. It is a lack of understanding and a willingness to welcome the easy answer that leads many people to accept a belief that something else is guiding or influencing our actions.

Aside from the obvious absurdity of it all, I have often wondered where some of these ideas come from. I mean, why should putting shoes on a table, or opening up an umbrella inside be linked in any way to misfortune or disaster? Aside from the obvious that is. I mean, anyone putting up an umbrella in a house is inviting trouble by their very proximity to light fittings, ornaments and other people. It stands to reason. Many old wives tales and myths have some basis in fact. Even some religious rites can be traced back to practical considerations of a more ignorant time, but superstitions are a little different. I suppose that in some cases they are born out of a form of reality. You make a change in your routine and something bad happens, there is a natural inclination to see the change as the cause, concluding that it was the deviation from previous acts that are to blame.

To me, superstition and religion and inexorably intertwined. I can see very little difference between them as they are both built on the premise of a belief in things we cannot see or explain, and a desire to pass responsibility for our actions on to someone else.

Whilst I have no time myself for superstition or religion, I do have sympathy for those that do. People can become obsessed with their belief in them and it can make their lives unnecessarily difficult. But however irrational their fears or ignorant their beliefs, when they are sincerely held they need to be handled with care and understanding. I have never mocked or ridiculed anyone for the beliefs. I may question them, but I would never dream of trying to undermine anyone’s faith, at least not to their face.

And in the red corner…

This week has seen further posturing by those two pillars of international diplomacy, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. They are beginning to look like two schoolboys arguing over who can urinate the highest up the school yard wall. It isn’t pretty, it isn’t clever, and it’s a challenge neither really wants to take up, just in case they lose.

Which begs the question, who has the most to lose by dragging us into another conflict in Korea? In the red corner, you have the world’s most secretive and militarised nation, under the dictatorial rule of a mad man prepared to do anything to aggrandise himself and his dynastic line. In the blue corner, you have North Korea.

Kim Jong-un’s posturing and open defiance of every UN resolution and against the expressed advice of his closest allies are playing into the hands of Donald Trump. Mr Trump, in turn, continues to use social media and inflammatory rhetoric that we can only assume he knows will do anything but calm the situation. I get the feeling that behind the scenes there are hundreds of diplomatic staff rushing about like mad things trying to keep everything under control. Now that must be a hair-raising job, being a liaison between North Korea and the US.

What is worrying is the North Korean decision to fire rockets over Japan. What do they hope to gain by such an action? They can’t believe that such a “show of strength” would prevent Japan from getting involved in any way. As far as I can see, far from it. Having recently changed their law to allow her forces to be used overseas, Japan is another potential enemy for the isolated state which already has far too many.

Even China is not happy with their recent rocket launches. They recognise the threat that these actions pose. It is in everyone’s best interests to keep the peace in this volatile region, but with the likes of Trump and Jong-un threatening the ultimate pissing contest, it is hard to see how conflict can be avoided.

Of course this week Donald Trump has been somewhat distracted by the devastating effects of Tropical Storm Harvey as it ripped through the southern states. Whilst these storms are nothing new – they happen every year – the growing ferocity of the weather over the past few years has to be of concern to everyone. But, with a President that openly denies that climate change is real, let alone a threat, residents and businesses of America’s vulnerable southern states are going to have to look elsewhere for help. Donald Trump’s determination to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and his muddled and hardly encouraging response to questions about climate change is probably a greater threat to the future stability of his nation than his posturing over North Korea.

Of course, we have plenty of our own politicians in denial about climate change. I am sure it is no coincidence that the majority of them are rich and powerful because of climate damaging industries, and whose incomes depend on the status quo. Short term gain over long term benefits is very much the mind set of a certain type of person. We all know that such short-termism has no place in global politics, but unfortunately, that is the way it is. It is just a shame that the current “leader of the free world” is probably the most politically myopic of the lot.

Maybe, rattling Kim Jong-un’s cage is Trump’s way of distracting the media and his opponents from the mess he is making in other areas. He does seem to have a knack for antagonising other world leaders. I suppose we all need a hobby…

 

It’s all in the eyes of the beholder

P1030022

Now, I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking “Why on Earth has that Wally posted a photograph of two strangers staring into a shop window.”

Go on, admit it. You were weren’t you?

I mean, anyone who has flicked through these pages before will have come to expect something critical, either of politicians in general or Donald Trump in particular. I know, I do like to aim for the easy targets, but why not. That’s what they are there for.

No, tonight I was inspired, not by any particular event, but by a random search through my recent photographs. The picture above was taken in the early evening as my wife and I strolled through the wonderful streets of York. At this particular point in the day I was just taking random shots of the buildings in the fading light. But when I got back to the hotel and perused my snap shots of this really beautiful city, this particular image just seemed to leap of the screen, beat me about the head a bit, and scream “post me” down my ear. Which of course I did.

That was back in April. Tonight I went back and looked through them again, for no particular reason other than to remind myself of the photographs I have taken so far this year. Which reminds me, I really do need to post some new images to Flickr.

Anyway, back to these two shoppers.

As I said, when I originally took the photograph it was intended as just a snapshot of the buildings, but instead I had inadvertently captured a moment.

The first thing that attracted me to this picture were the colours. The illumination from the shop lights up the young woman’s face, giving an almost fiery glow to her hair. The eyes are drawn to the window itself, trying to make out what it is that has caught this couple’s attention. Maybe it’s jewellery. Maybe they are looking for rings! Or an ornament as a memento of their visit. Or maybe it is a gift for a friend or relative.

Of course, we will never know what is going through their minds, or what they are discussing as they admire whatever it is they have spotted in the window. But do we really need to know?

Each of our lives is made up of fleeting moments. Some are good. Some are bad, but most are transitory and inconsequential. But whatever they are, each moment in unique. It will never happen again. It has gone. At least with photography you can capture those moments. The special ones, or the momentous ones. Even the everyday boring ones. Each picture represents a moment in our lives that we can never experience again, so each one is special in its own unique way.

Pictures like this one offer an opportunity not just to remember the moment itself, but also to create a new one, a new moment that can be whatever we want it to be. We all see something different when we look at pictures, whether that’s a photograph a drawing or a painting. The image in front of us tells each of us a different story. I am sure that some people will look at this particular image and wonder about the footprints on the path. Others may admire the architecture of the buildings or the grid (yes, there are people interested in grids!). But I am sure I am not alone in feeling drawn into the possibilities presented by this young couple as they gaze into the shop window.

This picture is never going to win a prize. I don’t think it is even technically a good photograph, but it does something for me and I just wanted to share that thought with the world.

Don’t worry, I am not going to make a habit of rambling on about photographs, but I don’t rule out posting another in the near future. You have been warned.

A sharp turn to the right!

It seems that the world we live in is getting crazier by the day. Just this week we have seen the atrocious terrorist attacks in Spain, white supremacists marching in America and killing opponents to their despicable beliefs, and, to top it all, at home we have seen the growth of a campaign on behalf of that throwback Jacob Rees-Mogg; there have even been suggestions that he could be the next leader of the conservative party! Not that any of these events are truly surprising, but they do highlight the way things are at present.

The whole idea that America is a “white” country is beyond ludicrous. Europeans were the invaders, driving back the indigenous, non-white, population who they have treated appallingly ever since. The colonialist’s approach to the native population represented the worst of European arrogance, something we have seen time and time again as European nations spread their influence across Asia, Africa and the Americas.

North America in particular, has thrived for centuries on immigration. Don’t forget it is a comparatively new country and a large proportion of the population is probably no more than a couple of generations on from an immigrant. The continuing influence of white supremacists in the southern states just goes to show how out of touch with reality and the modern world these people really are.

America may claim to be the land of the free, but to some that only seems to apply if you are a white Christian. One of Donald Trump’s earliest blunders was his idea to place a ban on travel from selected, mainly Muslim, countries. This came in response to perceived threats from Isis. But coming at a time when the biggest threat to innocent lives is from home-grown, gun toting madmen, it is clear that the President either doesn’t understand the real issue, or, more likely, is choosing to ignore it and, like so many people before him, blunder about placing the blame for the nation’s woes on the most visibly obvious minority.

But once again, neither America or Trump are the first to react in this way, and they won’t be the last. When times are hard, or people face uncertainty, rather than look at themselves, they will look outward and seek an easy target to vent their fury and frustration. After all, it is easy to lay the blame for your troubles on others rather than yourself, particularly those who, for one reason or another, are outwardly conspicuous. If unemployment is high, blame the immigrants for taking our jobs. You can’t get on the housing ladder, blame the immigrants who are taking all our social housing stock. Long queues at the hospital, then it must be all those immigrants coming here for free treatment. To anyone with any sense, all of these statements are obviously untrue, but they are things we all hear said time and time again.

Some people don’t have the patience or the capacity to look beyond the overly simplistic rhetoric of the far-right and take the easy option of accepting a point of view that seems to offer a simple solution. But the simple solution is very rarely the best and, hardly ever, the right answer. Trump’s threat to tighten up immigration controls plays right into the hands of the extremists and legitimises their twisted view of the world. And is hesitation in condemning the neo-Nazi’s behind the killing last week of Heather Heyer just goes to highlight that it is not just the KKK that we need to be rid of.

Of course, we face similar, though much less overtly obvious problems of our own. We also have a leader whose position within their own party has been weakened by their arrogance and poor decision making. While Trump plays his dangerous games in the far East, Theresa May continues to flounder around over the issue that dominates the political arena, Brexit. A lot has already been said about the jingoism expressed during that particular campaign. It was just another example of the growing nationalism that we have seen right across Europe. Whilst we do not have the same issue in this country with neo-Nazis, the popular acceptance of right wing rhetoric as worrying.

Terrorist attacks like those in Manchester, London and Barcelona only add fuel to the nationalistic fire. Whether or not they are achieving their goal is hard to say, but what they can take some credit for is giving the far right, as well as those who seek simple solutions, ammunition to back up their calls for deportations and a clamp down on immigration.

And the last thing we need is the likes of Jacob-Rees-Mogg gaining any more influence than he already has. Mind you, if he ever did get himself elected as leader of the Conservative Party it would polarise political views in this country, particularly as the Labour Party is now led be someone from the left. It would ensure their policies were discernibly different.

 

Invasion of the body snatchers

I finally have proof that aliens are here, taking over the bodies of humans as they lay their invasion plans. Only I’m not sure whether it’s my body they have taken over or Michael Gove’s!

You see, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with one of his policies. During his time in Education and Justice, and the whole Brexit debacle, I was comfortable in the knowledge that his ideas and opinions were right-wing lunacy. We are still suffering from the damage he did to both departments, particularly Education. As far as I am concerned, Michael Gove epitomises the worst of the Tories. And then, out of the blue, he not only says something sensible, he goes and proposes a policy that I find myself agreeing with.

That is something I never thought I would say, and it pains me to even think about it.

So, what is it that Mr Gove has proposed that has gone against every principle of his career so far by being sensible? Well, he has announced that he is going to match the funding the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), but on a different basis. Rather than pay the subsidy based on the amount of land they farm, in future they will be paid for protecting the environment and enhancing rural life.

I am not sure how protection and enhancement will be measured, and knowing Gove it may not be quite what it seems, but let’s hope that, for once, he is going to do the right thing. Let’s face it, his approach in his previous departments have been aimed at appeasing the Tory right and getting the best deal for those least in need of help, whilst leaving the rest of us to pay the bill and suffer the consequences.

Farming is an important industry for the UK and it is vital that we protect it. Paying out millions of pounds to already wealthy landowners has never been an effective use of public money. With supermarkets putting pressure on producers to keep prices down, many farmers are being pushed to the brink of bankruptcy. And it’s not just the price of produce that is a problem. In many rural areas, the cost of housing means that low paid farm workers are being priced out of the market.

So, we can only hope that this time around, Michael Gove’s proposal is what it seem and he is at last going to do something positive.