Getting started..

I’m torn. I’m torn between subjects that I passionately love. I’m currently taking an online course run by the Arizona State university in Astronomy. I have burning passion for astronomy, physics and all things science. The only trouble is that my Maths is shit. Now, at 35, I wish I had paid more attention in maths class instead of daydreaming about what knickers Sandy Blake had on and  how do I get my hands in them.

I also love literature. I buy books constantly. I currently have, to name a few, titles by Orwell, Dickens and Twain sitting on my shelf not being read. It’s criminal. Not to mention a few casual books on social engineering, card tricks, a killer shark and an almost finished book about Abraham Lincoln and the American civil war. My problem is:

I want to know about everything. But the more I learn, the more I realise how little I know about a great many things.

earth-from-space

So I signed up to re take my GCSE/O level/High school maths. I start in October. £45. Bargain. One of the questions I have to answer to is “Where do you want this qualification to take you?” I’m tempted to answer “To the edge of the universe” but feel I might raise a few eyebrows considering I can’t do long division without a calculator. So I’ll probably stick to “Further education”

As a musician I always have the urge to set my guitar up and record. I find the hours fall away when I’m engrossed with recording. I’m very lucky, now that my children are at school, that I have a great deal of time on my hands during the day. But I fear when asked what I did today ‘Recording ideas for songs’ might be misinterpreted as ‘fuck all’

I enjoy writing. Blogs, stories, articles you name it. I haven’t written for a long time and it gets me all knotted up inside. I find it soothing, a bit like hoovering really. It releases anger and stress. So I need to do more of it.

I love to learn. I love learning new things. I love to explore. I like to say yes. Saying yes invites the possibility of new things, experiences and people into your life. Saying yes opens the door into an otherwise undiscovered world. I don’t know where I stand. I feel like I’m in the minority. I feel most people don’t necessarily want to learn new things. New skills. New lessons. I feel most people just want to reinforce what they already know. Even if it’s untrue. Maybe I’m talking wildly out of turn or maybe I’m bang on the money. I just don’t know.

All I know is I want the world. I want every taste, every sound, every emotion and every experience I can before my short time on this ball of water is over. It won’t start tomorrow because it’s already started.

Regardless of what atmosphere we are living in the conservation of knowledge must be accelerated. For without it we suffer in stagnation.

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known” – Carl Sagan

 

Advertisements

Venom

It’s nearly 10 years since I visited Australia, a 3 month trip that will stay with me forever. One particular day sticks in my memory.

A group of us had booked a 3 day trip around one of Darwin’s national parks, Kakadu. There were 6 in total plus a guide. We hiked through the park, checked out ancient aboriginal cave art, swam in billabongs ate BBQ and drank beer..It was ace.
On the last day we were hiking back to camp we came to a small creek, about 3 feet wide which was easy enough for us to jump over. The guide went first and then we all followed; as I waited for my turn I was reflecting on what an amazing trip this was, then I heard it. A scream, a scuffle and a lot of commotion. Those of us left on my side of the creek were told to stay where we were and not to move. One of the guys had been bitten by a snake, a brown snake. After a few minutes we told it was safe to come across. At the time I had no medical training or experience so of course I was the obvious choice to help the guide, who was a trained medic, in applying a tourniquet. The bite was just above the ankle and didn’t look like much, two tiny puncture wounds…but what the fuck do I know. After the tourniquet was applied the guide had to run back to truck to radio a medevac. I was told to keep the guy talking, keep him calm and try not to let him fall unconscious.

I tried just that. Asking pointless and inane questions and up holding a blanket so as to create a little shade. I felt totally inadequate, completely useless and a little stupid. In essence I was helpless…helpless.

Now the above story is nothing more than fiction. But that feeling of helplessness isn’t. My wife, Marlo, is in a relapse. She was diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis.
All I can do to make things easier for her are as inane as an English tourist helping a snake bite victim who is potentially seeing out his last minutes by asking stupid and irrelevant questions.

She was prescribed a course of steroids, that in her words, rips your body apart and makes your bones feel like glass. She still finds the energy to get up, get dressed and go to work. She does all this and still looks amazing. She also raises our two children and is writing her second book…yes, second!

It pains me that there isn’t much I can do apart from make tea, hot water bottles and watch Harry Potter with her. It really is testament to her character, and anyone with a disability, that she finds the energy and strength to get through the day.

I woke up this morning with a cold…

The Down’s Delusion

As I read Richard Dawkins apology for his remarks regarding Down’s syndrome/Abortion I could hear a sharp intake of breath through gritted teeth from the Down’s Syndrome community. I could then feel the eyes…. waiting for my (re)action.

I have been a great admirer of Prof. Dawkins for a few years now and It was with great sadness that I read his apology letter.

Richard-Dawkins-007

My wife and I have a two year old daughter, Chiara, with Down’s. During the pregnancy we didn’t know anything of her condition but my wife and I always said that if we found out that either of our children had Down’s (Or any other condition) we wouldn’t opt for an abortion. I could tell you that having a child with Down’s is no different or how much joy she brings to us. I could go on for hours about how much we love her and the wonderful  dynamic she has added to our family. While all of the above are true and self evident I feel they miss the point slightly.

Prof. Dawkins remarked that “if your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare”

While I can understand Prof. Dawkins views I certainly do not agree with them.

Is it immoral to purposely give birth to a child with Down’s citing the child’s welfare as your reason? I would have to say no. You could go one further and ask…

Is it immoral to give birth to a child citing the child’s welfare as your reason? After all any child could grow up and be diagnosed with a range of conditions later in life. Autism, Multiple sclerosis, asthma, etc. Of course the answer is no. Having children is a risk, you don’t know what the future will bring.

With the advancement of medical science foetus’ can be diagnosed with a variety of conditions as well as being put in a high risk category for other conditions. Would someone opt for abortion for the latter? Sadly I feel some would. Termination before diagnosis. Execution before trial. Sounds very totalitarian doesn’t it? Something I know Prof. Dawkins is fervidly against.

Since having Chiara I can say that we are happy, as is she, and there is very little in the way of suffering. Except when she’s hungry and she turns into a right little moo cow. Yes I will have to care for her until the day I die… But the same applies to her sister and any future little Loves that may pop along for the ride. Parenting is job that’s 365 days a year, very few breaks, long hours and it lasts until the day you die… and the pay is shit! The parameters have shifted only slightly with extra Doctors appointments, physiotherapy and numerous classes. As for what happens to her after we’re gone… I guess we’ll have to just wait and see what life throws at her. But she will grow up in a stable, happy and loving environment and she will be given every opportunity to live an independent life.

And finally Prof. Dawkins I consider you a champion of the secular movement. Helping society to shed the cloak of religious dogma and bring the truly wonderful world of science and nature to the people. Bringing a shining light to the darkness. I truly hope that one day I can do the same for you… You’re welcome for tea anytime.

 

 

Reasons to be cheerful…

I’ve been away for a few weeks, both mentally and physically. Physically my family and I took a trip to New york. My wife is a native of Long Island NY so we went over with the kids to visit her mum and three sisters. Living so far away it’s difficult for our children to form a bond with the American side of our family. So it was lovely to see them scampering around the garden with their aunties and grandmother. I also took the opportunity to visit a few guitar stores to pick up some discount goods. My wife and I also took a few evenings off. We spent a night in Manhattan, saw a Yankees game and sipped drinks on the roof top bar of our hotel whilst gazing at the Empire state building.

Mentally, I took a break. I took my eye off the ball. I read, I drank, I ate and watched football, the nations biggest distractor. But I’m back.

Now I usually use this small platform of mine to highlight certain issues, express myself or simply bitch…usually about religion or governments.

I could talk about the absurdity of the Hobby Lobby story that has been a hot topic of late.
I could talk about people not knowing the difference between having your civil rights abused and not getting your own way all the time.
I could even talk about our government secretly pushing another bill through parliament to retain our private information. But I wont. Largely because I’m sure they are being covered by the excellently thorough (And thoroughly excellent) Adam Pain or Dale Cooper.

Today I want to share with a story that literally took my breath away.

There’s a small place in the USA called Tim’s place. IT’s a small restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico owned and run by Tim Harris and his family. Tim was born in 1986, he attended Eldorado High School and was voted home coming king by the highest margin in the schools history. He was also voted student of the year by the staff and faculty. After high school he attended Eastern New Mexico University where he earned certificates in Food Service and in Office Skills. He also worked at a variety of local restaurants including CiCi’s Pizza, Golden Corral, IHOP, and Peppers Bar and Grill. Tim enjoys a variety of sports, including basketball, volleyball, poly hockey, track and field, and golf. Tim is also an olympian and to my knowledge has won more medals than Michael Phelps.

Tim was born with Down’s Syndrome. 

As you can see he has in no way let his disability (maybe it should be renamed ability?) hinder him achieving his goal of being a restauranteur. He greets his customers with a hug and has dubbed his restaurant ‘The world’s friendliest restaurant’ and it’s open for breakfast, lunch and hugs. To date Tim has issued over 42,000 hugs since opening in 2010. Tim Says “I thought my restaurant would be very popular and that lots of people would come to see me. I was so excited when it came together. I got to watch the place unfold into my dream”

So many people today like to bitch and complain about where they’ve ended up in life. But it’s their choices that have led them to where they are now. If you have a dream then you owe it to yourself to follow it, whatever it may be. I know I’ve said it in previous posts but it’s worth saying again. You’re not going to get to the end of your life and someone will say

“Ok Mr Smith that was your practice run, are you ready for the real thing?”

So whatever it is that you want to do…do it. For FUCK sake DO IT!
There are ways and means of getting around any obstacle and what’s the worst that can happen? You fail and go back to the job you’re already doing?

That’s good advice that I could do with taking on board at this time in my life.

To find out more about Tim and his restaurant you can visit their website here

Or watch this Video

My wife and I have a daughter with Down’s syndrome. Our greatest hopes are that she’ll be independent,  self sufficient and above all happy. Seeing what Tim has achieved gives me an enormous amount of hope for her future.

I’ve always said that our greatest limitations are the ones we impose on ourselves.

Until next time…Love

Education, Education, Education

I hated school when I was a kid. From the second I stepped into Mrs Thrussell’s classroom at age 5 to the last afternoon when I walked out of secondary school having finished my final exam. I was free. I spent over a decade in various classrooms daydreaming about ways in which I could escape the monotony of school life. These ranged from a jet engine under my seat to blast through the school roof to bringing in a very big coat on a windy day, catching a gust and it carrying me home to my Transformers collection. The problem was I was never engaged. I never wanted to learn, at least not in a classroom, and I was pretty much allowed to coast through school without any real great academic success. My school reports ALL read the same.

 

Very bright, has great potential. He just needs to concentrate and stop daydreaming/chatting. 

ATA_Education

I can count on one hand the times I was truly excited about school:
In my second year of secondary school we learnt about The Great war and I couldn’t get enough of it and If I remember correctly I aced my exam, but decided to study Geography instead…TWAT.

In my fourth year as part of our science module we had to learn about astrophysics. This was more exciting and fascinating then anything I had ever learned. I was truly in awe  by it and what’s more I had a superb teacher, Mr Newbury. In fact all his science lessons were exceptional. This is a passion I still carry with me today.

That’s it. They were the only times I was actually excited about learning and I find it terribly upsetting. Firstly because I squandered an 11 year, free education when there are people in the world who receive none. But also because every single one of my teachers saw that I had great potential and I was left to slide away. Of course I’m not trying to blame anyone else but me, to this day I need a kick up the arse to get going. What’s also sad is I’m not the only one.

Everyday thousands of children begrudgingly trundle into school to endure six hours of boredom. And I don’t blame them. I don’t blame the children for feeling disengaged and I certainly don’t blame the teachers. What I do think is at fault is the system that both teacher and student have to endure.

The public education system was developed towards the end of the 19th century to meet the demands of the industrial revolution and it hasn’t really moved on since. Of course there has been an influx of lessons ranging from Japanese to Economics but the school system is still based on the same model from that of the late 19th century. A model that is based on group learning, the memorisation of dates, numbers and facts, standardised tests, the stopping and starting of lessons with bells and whistles, structured breaks, uniforms and desks lined in rows.

All children learn differently, adults too. Some work better in a group, some on their own. Some work better in the morning whilst others flourish in the afternoon.  Some are visual learners whilst others only need to listen to instructions to understand. So our schools need to be structured in a way that accommodates all the different ways we learn. A school that is open from 8.00am to 8.00pm where students have as much autonomy as the teachers. A school that doesn’t have children sitting in rows and being herded from class to class every hour like cattle. A school where a child can take a break whenever he or she feels the need to. A school where the emphasis on Music, Drama And Art is just as strong as it is on English, Maths and Science. A school where a student’s pathway can be devoid of the three Rs and will suit their needs. A true school of the future.

I think if we’re going to reform our school system, and we need to, then we need to take lessons from countries like Finland. Finland outstrips the UK in Reading, Maths and Science year after year. There are no tuition fees and compulsory education starts at age 7, so as not to interrupt childhood; and finishes at age 15. Early education focuses on life, respect towards others, and social attitudes. Classes are usually small, no more than twenty, and there are no standardised tests. The end of year exam usually consists of a verbal assessment. Children will learn two foreign languages and 4-11 periods a week are dedicated to arts and craft. Homework is kept to a minimum to enable students to participate in extracurricular activities. There are state subsidised music schools and for a minimal fee students can learn a musical instrument along with music theory. Reading for pleasure is also highly encouraged. Finland currently produces more children’s books than any other country and there are free school meals for anyone in full time education.

Teachers are selected from the top 10% of academics and all teachers must have a masters. Their salary reflects the importance of schooling children which is why competition for teaching jobs is fierce. They are given far more autonomy than their British counterparts and they are simply instructed to “Do what ever it takes”
There is no drop out rate and if a student does fall behind they receive one to one tuition and a brought back up to speed and it’s almost unheard of that they hold a student back a year.

It’s practically the mirror opposite of what we do the UK. Our current education secretary Michael Gove is in favour of putting more emphasis on tests rather than coursework, longer school days and getting back to the three Rs (Reading, writing and Arithmetic) There is no doubt that Maths, English and Science are important. But are they any more important than Music? or History? Certainly not. Especially if one wants to be a musician or an historian.

Children who are starting school this year will be retiring in 2083 and we need to ensure that they are as well rounded and as well educated as they can possibly be because we have no idea what the world will look like in 2020 let alone 2083.

I’m happy that I live in a country that has a public school system, it just needs updating. It needs to reflect 21st century life and it has to keep children engaged. It has to be an environment that children want to learn in and that teachers want to teach in. This isn’t going to happen if we keep pumping money into an outdated, victorian model. There is too much emphasis on getting a job and this isn’t the business of education; and too much pressure on children from teachers and parents asking “What are you going to do when you leave school”…..My answer? Whatever the fuck I want!!

Children need to be taught HOW to think not WHAT to think.

 

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”- John Lennon 

 

Thank god!

A friend of mine was sadly diagnosed with cancer just over a year ago. He’s in his mid 20’s, is married and he and his wife have a son. I have only met him once when he and his band toured the UK, from America, a few years ago and I played on the same night as them. We shared a few drinks after the show and chatted about cultural differences, namely that it’s socially acceptable to start drinking in the early afternoon in the UK. I kept in touch with the band via Facebook and kept up with their goings on.

It’s always a shock to hear that someone so young is hit with cancer. But after a year of treatments and therapies he has been given the all clear which is absolutely wonderful news. Not only has the disease been kicked squarely in the bollocks but he and his wife and son will enjoy many more happy years together. Which is the most important thing.

But there was something that rubbed me the wrong way, it’s only a minor niggle but it’s a niggle none the less. I’ve written the next sentence a dozen times and there is no way of writing it without me sounding like a sanctimonious arse hole, so here it is.

After the news that he was given the all clear his Facebook wall lit up with comments of well wishing and congratulations. The vast majority praising God for his ultimate wisdom, compassion and grace. “God is good” seemed to be the favourite. This is where the niggle comes in, and there is more that one I’m afraid to say.

From my understanding of the world I would have to say that our medical advancements over the last 100 years are our greatest achievements. Our adventures into space are truly amazing and our expeditions to bottom of the sea are staggering, but they were borne from curiosity rather than necessity. We have eradicated small pox, cornered polio and walked cancer to the edge of the plank. All this was achieved from countless medical professionals working diligently into the long good night. Before them human beings succumbed to diseases and viruses, rotting teeth and gangrene. Even a splinter or the common cold could turn deadly.

So it does upset me when an unproven, unverifiable celestial deity gets all the credit for one man’s victorious cancer battle. Not one mention to the hard working, diligent team of doctors, nurses and therapists. Because let’s face it, without them it could have been a very different outcome. But I must reiterate that the most important thing is one man is cancer free.

Every few months we hear stories of parents denying their children of medical care, opting instead for prayer and trusting the life of their child in the hands of the lord. More often that not, tragically the child dies, the parents are put on trial and subsequently go to jail. So my point is this. Maybe, just maybe, your prayers were answered. The lord provided you with a cure, a helping hand and a miraculous recovery. But instead of white light coming from the heavens or bearded man walking on water and doing tricks with wine you got a mid 30’s woman with a PhD from the university of wherever, armed with a vast knowledge of ‘whatever it is you are suffering from’. I admit that these kind of prophecies don’t look as good as your Jesus fellow, but maybe these people are the answers to your prayers and they deserve the recognition, they deserve the praise and they deserve all the thanks.

I said there was more than one niggle and here it is…if God cured you of your ailments then surely it stands to reason that God gave you those ailments in the first place. Why? To make you a stronger person? To make you thankful for the life you have? What about the people who spend their day getting high on PCP and thieving from good, honest, hard working people, why aren’t they struck down with cancer? What about the numerous people who molest, torture and rape children in every country on the planet and yet somehow manage to evade the wrath of god? What about the people who strive to be good and value life and yet still fall prey to Cancer? There are two answers.

1. God can intervene, but he decides not to. Which makes him some kind of misanthropist 

2. God doesn’t have the power to intervene, which doesn’t make him omnipotent and therefore no more special than the turd that I just flushed down the toilet.

The power of prayer has also undergone scientific scrutiny with groups of hospital patients. Not surprisingly the tests conclude that people who were prayed for didn’t recover any quicker than the people that were not prayed for. To me it is painfully obvious why.

The truth is, is that there is no God. Never was, not one….ever. But I must reiterate that the most important fact is that a man is cancer free, a woman has her husband in good health and a son has a strong father.

 

 

 

Milestones

Over the last two weeks our daughter, Chiara, has hit a milestone. A big one. She has learnt to go from lying down to sitting up. All by herself. While this may not seem like something to write about, to us and Chiara this is a huge achievement. Chiara is 15 months old and has Down’s syndrome. The first few months after her diagnosis were spent in denial..at least on my part. She fed exceptionally well from the breast and from the bottle, had good muscle tone and seemed acutely aware of her surroundings. I would constantly tell myself that maybe she didn’t have Down’s, maybe she was misdiagnosed. But since her first birthday we have noticed an increased delay in her development. This was hit home when I dropped Chiara and her elder sister, Amelia, off at my parents for the day. Their youngest cousin was there, who at six months, can feed herself and when I held her I could feel that she had a strong core. Nether of which I can say about Chiara, which fills me with a great sadness. While I’ll never pitch children against each other in terms of their achievements I couldn’t help but notice it. What’s more it’s a divide that will only increase as they get older.

After Chiara’s diagnosis both Marlo and I were plunged into a void. A void of unknown certainty, of unanswered questions and fear. While no parent knows what will become of their children the uncertainty is amplified when you have a child with Down’s, or any other behavioural/cognitive/genetic condition. I could not love my daughters any more if you paid me. My love for both of them grows exponentially each day with each new word, each new milestone and with each new demand. Although Chiara’s development will be delayed and she may not achieve even that which comes so easy to other children; Marlo and I have sworn that she will be granted every opportunity that is granted to all children. We want her to attend a mainstream school, have friends and to gain as much independence as is possible. We want her to grow into her own person.

While Marlo and I work tirelessly with Chiara none of it could be possible without the excellent support from the National Portage Association or Portage as they’re better known. They organise day trips out, provide valuable information for parents and host weekly groups for the children. The groups include:

Swimming
Physiotherapy
Sensory and cognitive development
Sign language
Speech and language therapy
Messy play

And that’s just the start. Just as important it also gives parents the chance to have their fears and uncertainties rolled up into little balls and thrown out the window. I can honestly say that Marlo and I wouldn’t be the parents we are to Chiara without the support and care we have received from Portage. The group is made up of staff and volunteers who all show unwavering love and affection for all the children. I can’t thank them enough for all they have done, directly and indirectly. I also can’t thank them enough for all they are yet to do. You make having a daughter with Down’s the joy it should be. Focusing on the positives and dealing with the negatives with a breathtaking confidence that puts both Marlo and myself at ease and it lets us get on with raising both our children. Thank you.

My biggest fear for Chiara is that she won’t be integrated into society and will suffer intolerance from the ignorant. So far I have been shown that I have little to worry about. Not only has Chiara been accepted into our loving family and is adored by her older sister she has also been accepted into another family . Both Amelia and Chiara visit a childminder, Kim, two times a week. Kim has two young boys aged four and eighteen months. I was informed that the younger of the two still can’t say mama yet but he can say Ra Ra, That’s baby for ‘Chiara’. So you could say that phase one of social integration is complete.

Neither of my children are expected to grow into my expectations. I do not want to live vicariously through them and I don’t ever want them to feel that they don’t have a choice. All I truly want is for them to be happy.

20140302-132808.jpg