Blokes: Do You Suffer With Those ‘Bridget Jones’ Moments?

There are many amusing scenes in the film of Bridget Jones’ Diary but for me the funniest will always be the one in which she attempts to cook a sophisticated meal for her best friends. One dish requires shoots of leek and celery to be bound with string and boiled until they are reduced to a soupy consistency.

Unfortunately the only string Bridget owns looks like the kind used by farmers to tie bales of hay, moreover it is blue. The inevitable result is that her potage becomes an inedible blue gloop.

It’s a light scene in comparison to some in this film and its sequel. What makes me laugh so much about it is just how it illustrates so well how matters can go so hilariously wrong when we make effort to reach out to something new when attempting something others find straightforward.

I experienced more than one ‘Bridget Moment’ myself this past week.

It all began nearly a decade ago in our beach house in Amos, on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. Mrs. Bray and I decided to see if it would be possible to live there all the year round and, since I’m always writing, my goodly wife on impulse bought me a largish desk.

In the course of various jobs I’ve used a number of desks of different style ranging from those grey metal monsters, dating from the post war era when drawers never seemed to fit, right through practical models from the 1970s with black metal frames – veneered block board tops and drawer fronts. Later came adapted Victorian dressing tables and genuine antique desks located in private clinics.

I cannot claim the ‘Amos’ desk as the most elegant I’ve owned, but it was the probably the best solution for me that stores in Marmaris have to offer. I used it without incident for a few months before we decided to renovate our little stone house. This involved us moving out for a few months whilst builders gutted the place.

The new desk fell victim to the movers. Its top received a deep scar. This was to become the first of many gashes and indentations, each signifying an attack upon it by cleaners and other artisans.

I do not complain. Two books were written on that desk, as well as countless articles, advertisement copy, and a course to train psychologists and psychiatrists in family therapy. I have read legal papers behind it and constructed witness statements for English court proceedings both as an expert witness and as a consultant to the legal profession.

Three computer monitors have stood upon it and whilst two have gone to the local landfill, as happens with most consumer durables, the desk despite scuff-marks, has endured.

One day Mrs Bray set her laptop computer on one corner and began to type and talk to people over Skype. This gradually grew into an on-line counselling practice, which ate into not only desk space, but also made it pretty near impossible to make phone calls myself lest the sanctity of her ‘session’ be disturbed.

In the end I bought her a somewhat smaller version of my desk, but that didn’t do much to help. Somehow she continued to take up more and more space in my study, which she started to refer to as ‘our’ office. I didn’t ‘twig’ at once that this was probably a preamble to getting a larger house, but as the months turned to years my discomfort increased. I was still able to produce both written work and photographs, but the situation continued to cause problems.

When in September last year we finally moved the desk suffered further indignities from the movers, so many in fact that last week re-polishing and re-varnishing its surfaces seemed long overdue.

I read somewhere that where Europeans like things to appear as ‘new’, bright and untarnished, in the East this isn’t the case. Indeed it’s said that the more chipped a traditional Japanese teacup the greater is its value. I am unsure this applies to modern western mugs from the supermarket, but certainly the tradition was to rub gold leaf into the glue used to repair pottery in olden times. This not only means that the glue sticks broken parts together, but also that the damage is permanently marked in a precious indelible way.

Chinese Editing Desk, twelfth century - image public domain.

Chinese Editing Desk, twelfth century – image public domain.

I like this idea. With it in mind, decided upon a policy with respect to the restoration of the desk.

Policies are, to my mind, rather like epistemologies. You can view the world through one or more belief systems and filters, yet even the most entrenched nihilist ‘cannot not’ have an epistemology – for theirs is one of nihilism. So it is with regard to policies as they relate to projects. A newspaper, or magazine, without an editorial policy is likely to drift aimlessly in an unseen sea, indeed any business that cannot identify values and purpose will most likely fail.

I resolved, as this project’s policy, not to attempt to fill any gouges, but to re-stain areas where the original deal was showing as a result of damage. This decision would lead to my first ‘Bridget Moment’.

Go to any DIY store in the UK and you can shortly walk away with a can of wood stain. This is not so in Turkey. Here people want to sell you coloured varnish. I bought a pot of brown varnish from a store in Marmaris, then thought better of it and set out, again, in search of wood-stain. After visiting a couple of stores I found one displaying a plaque of wooden tiles of different tones under a bold banner headed: ‘Wood Art’. Imagining this to be wood-stain was to be my mistake.

Once the surface of my desk was thoroughly prepared I applied dobs of ‘Wood Art’ to all the gashes and grooves. Wood-stain would, of course, penetrate the wood – darken only the scratched area and leave the surface ready for varnishing. The stuff certainly looked like wood-stain but, as hours passed, it became apparent that Wood Art had no intention of sinking into the grooves. When it dried the whole surface was like an adolescent’s nightmare of raised facial pustules. These would need to be rubbed down.

Wood Art was, I later discovered, simply another brand of varnish renamed by advertisement copywriters as something they thought would win extra sales, but which in fact only disguised the true nature of the product.
Much sanding followed. I put the ‘pustules’ down to experience and did my best to obliterate them with emery paper. The process whiled away some hours. Moreover, bands of compacted varnish would build up in the abrasive paper, so care had to be taken in order to ensure that these didn’t add to the number of scratches on the desk’s surface.

Finally, everything seemed ready for a full coat of varnish. This was to be my second ‘Bridget Moment’. Here, in Turkey, Turpentine Substitute is referred to as ‘Tiner’, and in my shed I have a small can of the stuff, which I’ve kept for many years unopened. I decided to apply some Tiner to a cloth and rub it over the surface of my desk to ensure it was thoroughly clean before applying varnish.

“Eeeeeaaah”, now all the surface of the desk was bubbling like jam, when it’s being cooked by Granny at her house. ‘Tiner’, this time, clearly meant ‘thinners’, which is one effective way to remove varnish, as well as plastic or oil based paints from any surface; so back to stage one!

Some hours later I was finally able to varnish the desk, and then each day I’ve rubbed it down using a sanding block, and applied a coat of ‘Wood Art’. It’s not been straightforward, and in times past I may have become frustrated.
Diligently I’ve thinned the varnish with appropriate solvent. The emery paper of finer texture has been used with each successive layer. The finest grade of abrasive paper was used with soap and water to prepare the surface for the final thin coat of varnish.

It has been a good and grounding experience – not at all like in the past when apprentices would polish wooden boards using their bare hands and brick dust; the blood from abrasions and blisters creating the patina that is so valued today.

As I wrote last week, however, something is being polished here. It turns out I may simply have been referring to the top of my old writing desk?

E-mail and ‘Brideshead Revisited’ Visited

I made no resolutions this year, nor planned anything, Life has continued, mostly with a relaxed energy and efficiency. One thing I’ve noted is that I’ve started unsubscribing from e-mail marketing lists. Now, not only am I going out more into the world, but also getting far more done. It wasn’t my intention to unsubscribe, it just crept up on me, but as opting out got out got under way it seems to have gained a momentum of its own.

Castle Howard has been used as the setting for 'Brideshead Revisited', both as a T.V. series and a movie. (Photo: Pwojdacz Creative Commons 3.0)

Castle Howard has been used as the setting for ‘Brideshead Revisited’, both as a T.V. series and a movie. (Photo: Pwojdacz Creative Commons 3.0)

Evelyn Waugh‘s great novel Brideshead Revisited is about a painter, Charles Ryder, relating to a family of Roman Catholic aristocrats. It contains a phrase that has a reassuring ring to it:

My cousin Jasper had told me that it was normal to spend one’s second year [in university] shaking off the friends of one’s first, and it happened as he said.”

Brideshead Revisited is also a work about love, initially late adolescent homosexual love and later the passionate heterosexual kind, in which Ryder melds Julia a kindred-spirit soul-mate. In the background, however, something subtle and powerful is happening.

I wonder if you remember the story mummy read us the evening Sebastian first got drunk I mean the bad evening. ‘Father Brown‘ said something like “I caught him” (the thief) “with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.”

Whilst I am not a Roman Catholic I have always enjoyed the prose in Brideshead Revisited, not simply because it’s so beautifully written but more because there’s something moving about Rider’s struggle to discover contentment. At beginning of the story Charles Ryder seems a broken despondent man, with few personal resources apart from class and cynicism. He struggles as an army captain to run a platoon as well as cope with his life losses and middle age:

Perhaps that’s one of the pleasures of building, like having a son, wondering how he’ll grow up. I don’t know; I never built anything, and I forfeited the right to watch my son grow
up. I’m homeless, childless, middle-aged, loveless, Hooper.’ He looked to see if I was being funny, decided that I was, and laughed.”

At the very end, and almost on the same page as the quote above, he finds a kind of redemption in the form of, if not faith, a kind of acceptance and appreciation of the beauty of the world as it is. This is how the experience is written:

Something quite remote from anything the builders intended, has come out of their work, and out of the fierce little human tragedy in which I played; something none of us thought about at the time; a small red flame – a beaten-copper lamp of deplorable design relit before the beaten-copper doors of a tabernacle; the flame which the old knights saw from their tombs, which they saw put out; that flame burns again for other soldiers, far from home, farther, in heart, than Acre or Jerusalem. It could not have been lit but for the builders and the tragedians, and there I found it this morning, burning anew among the old stones.’ I quickened my pace and reached the hut which served us for our ante-room.”

In an uncanny way the story in that paragraph is so powerful, even if told so briefly, that it overrides everything in the book that precedes it. It has everything, builders, a house, a chapel, knights, a crusade – which in turn implies faith and the tragedy of wars fought because of it. There is symbolism and the acceptance of tasteless design, which becomes regarded, in this context, as perfect. It all ends in a small flame signifying what?

Only you may answer this.

We are invited to imagine that following his experience Charles Ryder is liberated from the burdens of the past, as well as those of age and military responsibility. There may no longer be the sexual passion, or the fusion of souls, but an intensity may be found for what we may simply call experience.

I feel something of this as 2015 takes root. A sense of exquisite uncertainty, a direction with neither map nor compass, a purposeful purposelessness in which there’s no space for distracting e-mails which are designed to serve the owners of marketing lists. Something is being polished here. For me, God has no part in it. Yet sunshine, coldness or heat, the world seems right – and life, sans e-mail, feels good just the as it is!

All quotations from Brideshead Revisited, (1945) by Evelyn Waugh.

Looking After Your Health And Hair In Turkey

When I first came to Istanbul I became acutely ill. My body found it impossible to breathe and my mind went crazy thinking that I would die. Mrs. Bray had a new job and was travelling the length and breadth of Turkey, so it fell to my beloved mother-in-law to take me to hospitals and elsewhere to see doctors.

One day, after getting a chest x-ray she took me to see our newly appointed G.P. He didn’t let on at the time that the hospital had given me the wrong x-ray, but put me in an oxygen mask for a few minutes and prescribed fourteen items of medication including two inhalers. On the way home my mother in law took me to a barber for remodelling.

At first glance the salon seemed like those I knew whilst growing up in England. There was a kind of dentist’s chair, and a sink, a water geyser, combs in a dish of disinfectant, scissors and clippers.

My mother in law gave some orders in Turkish and left to drink coffee with her friend who owns the famous marzipan shop in Bebek.

I’m not usually nervous about having a haircut because as a youth my father discovered a shell shocked alcoholic who charged sixpence less than the local tariff. It didn’t really matter that he went there because by this time Dad had no hair, but I had plenty and as my testicles had dropped I also cared what it looked like.

That old barber would shake and twitch, which wasn’t so bad when he had the scissors in his hand but could be disconcerting when he brandished a cut-throat razor with which he insisted on trimming bits from the sideburns and back of the neck.

After him, any kind of haircut was comparative bliss, or so I thought.

But there in Bebek, over a decade ago, when I looked about the salon I found the barber squatting in a corner by an electric kettle on the floor. I thought he would be about to make tea, but soon discovered that the water was to wash my hair.

Traditional Barbers

Traditional Barbers

In England it’s unusual to have one’s hair washed prior to a cut, at least for men, and as I was struggling to make it clear that it was a haircut I required and not a shave, help arrived in the shape of an ancient looking man with dyed black hair dressed in grey flannel trousers and a navy blue blazer. The pocket sported some kind of heraldic device, which gave away the fact that he was out to make an impression.

“I was educated at Robert College”, he announced. Robert College was one of the first independent schools in Istanbul, founded by an American and lessons there were given in English.

After some discussion my new friend explained that my hair would be washed, and my scalp massaged, before being cut, Later I was to discover that hair would be removed from my nostrils and ears by a traditional method.

The barber and his customer chatted together as the hair was cut. Then when all seemed to have been finished he suddenly produced a length of button thread from his pocket. He deftly wound this around a miniscule hair in my ear and twanged it as if it was a string on a lyre. The pain was excruciating – “Ow!” I yelled involuntarily.

Beretta Model 1934 Pistol

Beretta Model 1934 Pistol

My cry startled the waiting customer who was seated in a chair behind me, and he stood up with a start. To my horror an automatic pistol dropped from his trouser band and dropped with a load crack on the tiled floor. He quickly swept it up and stuffed it back under his belt before asking me what was wrong.

“Oh”, I retorted, “I just wasn’t expecting that”. Several twangs later I left the shop feeling considerably worse than when I entered it.

After this experience there followed a few years of relative calm because I discovered the man who took care of workers who, at the time were digging up the streets of Besiktaş to renew the sewers. I would wait with them dressed in a business suit, they in muddy overhauls and brown Wellington boots. Outside everything was mud, like Deadwood in 1870s, but except for the lack of ‘Tit-Bits Magazine‘ which I have only ever seen or read in several of the barber’s shops in my home town, everything seemed quite normal.

Then one day after we moved to Turunç the day came when my ‘barnet’ needed a trim. The whole experience was quite amazing. It started with a shampoo, continued with a scalp massage, evolved into a, practically, shaven head, and culminated with my ears being set alight with methylated spirit before my chair was plugged into the mains and my bottom vibrated in a rather disturbing manner.

All these items were then totted up like l’addition at a restaurant and I ended up phoning Mrs. Bray to bring more funds because I was carrying around ten lira, the cost of my previous barber, plus tip, in Istanbul.

Anxious to avoid a repeat of this experience I went several months without getting my hair cut, and then one day in Marmaris I was accosted by an elderly looking man in the street who asked if I required a haircut.

It was a hot day, and a cut was long overdue. The man looked reassuringly traditional, and so even at the risk of having my nose plucked, or my ears set alight, I decided to risk it.

Once in the salon, however, everything changed. The old man sat me in a chair, and pointed to a photograph of a younger man who looked a little like Jason King of Department S.

“It’s me”, he said as somehow he deftly removed my shirt, in the manner of someone removing a tablecloth but leaving all the place settings on the table. “We are all men together here!”

With that he handed me over to his assistant, a young man of no more than twenty years who had half of his head shaved, and the other long with dyed black hair. He had two rings in his upper eyelid, one through his nose, I lost count of the number in his upper ears, and sincerely hoped that he would not also be removing his shirt.

The haircut was adequate, but not outstanding. The young barber was clearly displeased that I eschewed a massage, and most of the customary extras that can give rise to a heavy barber’s bill. I was pleased to get clear of the place and although I sometimes see ‘Jason King’ on the street these days I avoid his gaze.

One day I accompanied Mrs. Bray to her hairdresser and Turgay, her kuaför offered to cut my hair. I had not expected this but he made a superb job and so we have been having our hair cut as a family together regularly ever since.

Kuaför Tungay cutting Mrs Bray's Hair

Kuaför Tungay cutting Mrs Bray’s Hair

Yesterday, however, was different. I decided to drop by on my own. The salon was practically empty, following New Years celebrations and in the absence of other family members I received the services of not just Turgay, but also his two assistants.

They decided that I was suffering with dandruff, probably as a result of using Storax soap, purchased from ‘the Olive Man’ but that is another story, instead of shampoo.

Like clinicians they poured over my scalp, went into a cupboard, and emerged with a dark brown bottle. After Turgay had cut my hair, one of his assistants shampooed it in a backwash. He treated it with two products, the second of which required me to wait for ten minutes with it on my head.

The second assistant rinsed the hair, and also dried it, adding a little wax just to hold it in place. The whole process took around an hour and I left with a bag upon which the slogan ‘Don’t Be Rigid Everything Can Be The Opposite Of Everything’ on the side. It contained a bottle of the special shampoo.

Today, I thought about that slogan and noticed that under it was printed www.davines.com. When I looked it up I found that the manufacturer of my new shampoo is a business with a complete, ecological, systemic, holistic, philosophy. Just take a look at this video about their work. You may be amazed!

P.S. I recovered from the near death experience in Istanbul after dumping all that medication.
Something within me decided to get well, and things have been looking up ever since ;)

How Boxing Day Snuck Up On Us!

A story of accidental traditionalism . . .

Just last week I wrote a how this year we decided to play down Christmas, partly because we live in a country where it’s not celebrated by most of our friends, and also because it has become more and more commercialized and this leads to public exploitation.

So no Holly, or Ivy, tree, pudding or crackers for us!

But Life has a way of playing tricks, and on Boxing Day, which for some families is the one when Christmas is celebrated, (Christmas Day being for the servants), we hosted a party of friends for what might have been Boxing Day lunch.

The story of how this came to pass is complex, but all the guests were employed at a certain establishment we have patronized over the years. Due to circumstances largely outside of their control each was forced to move on. When ever this happened our family felt a sense of loss, and since many of the people involved had been traumatized by their experiences of working at this place it seemed a good idea to bring them together.

We cooked some meat that was left in the freezer following the Eid al-Adha festival. It had been given to us by neighbors and at the time we didn’t really know what to do with it. In the event it spiced up rather well and with some roasted potatoes, sage and onion stuffing, carrots, and greens it contributed to an event that might well have been Christmas.

A few years back a friend cooked Christmas dinner for us, but then her daughter insisted on playing Ottoman court music as the background ambiance, which rather diminished the pleasure of pulling Christmas crackers.

To my mind, yesterday’s meal was far more what Christmas could, and should, be about. Celebrating Life with friends, healing, joy, laughter, and moving on toward a new year. But then, I’ve always preferred Boxing Day, because it is when you do what you want, rather than what you ‘must’.

Paolo_Uccello_-_Stoning_of_St_Stephen_-_WGA23196

The Stoning of Saint Stephen by Paolo Uccello

My namesake St. Stephen achieved eternal fame by being the first Christian to be martyred for his faith by being stoned to death shortly after Christ’s crucifixion. His day was probably designated as 26th, because it makes a kind of symbolic sense that if Christ was born on 25th, then the first Christian martyr should be accorded the first available date to follow.

When Good King Wenceslas Looked Out On The Feast Of Stephen, he was looking out on Boxing Day. The feast being the left overs from the Christmas lunch. In the Middle Ages the church collecting boxes were opened on Boxing Day, and alms given to the poor.

St. Stephen died for doing what he considered to be right, rather than the social norm of his day. It’s appropriate that his day is also one of celebration. Certainly I’m glad to have shared the day this year with friends, because much healing came out of it, and it also was the right thing to do.

The Best Christmas Ever!

In the run up to Christmas most of us today are wondering what we are to find under the tree. Will it be a Brompton Folding Bike, Tom Tom Golfer, or iPad? we ask.

Charles Dickens, maybe writing a 'thank you letter' in 1842, (The year prior to the publication of A Christmas Carol).

Charles Dickens, maybe writing a ‘thank you letter’ in 1842, (The year prior to the publication of A Christmas Carol).

Some of us have childhood memories of receiving unwanted, or disappointing, gifts and then having to laboriously sit and write thank you letters to our relatives who had dutifully purchased and packaged them.

In my home town the Christmas service was one of the few occasions when the drafty and decaying church was full, and even though cold and uncomfortable there still seemed to be something warm and comforting about singing familiar carols in the company of other towns-folk.

We had fewer presents in those days and, looking back, their quality seems basic compared to those of today. Maybe it’s my fancy but our imaginations seemed better then, for it was us that imbued objects with life, rather than the designers who today animate them with computer chips and other technology.

Even so, with the exception of construction kits, most gifts left me cold, or confused.

Why had I been given a water rifle that killed nothing, whilst I lived in a society that proclaimed ‘Thou shalt not kill’, but expected me to point it everywhich way and shoot what ever I could?

Why was my mother so horrified when two neighbours dressed in their Sunday best appeared at the fence shouting: ‘Stephen, shoot us, shoot us’. The bolt action on that toy could send a painful water jet thrity feet and I complied to their request with alacraty.

“Mum, Mum”, I yelled excidedly running into the kitchen, “I’ve just shot two old ladies and a dog!”

When, like most small children, I once crushed a bug the act immediately filled me with revulsion and self-loathing. I no longer wanted to eat meat, but since Christmas was all about greasy geese, or turkeys crammed both ends with sausage meat and other stuffing that was an impossibility.

Brer_Rabbit_dream,_1881

Br’er Rabbit

Many years later I met Adrian Slack, a true British eccentric, who at the age of five declared himself vegetarian because he couldn’t bear the burden of eating Br’er Rabbit and his friends. His father, a stern man if Slack’s account is true, demanded he change but Adrian stuck to his guns and never ate flesh again. Later he was to become Britain’s foremost expert on carnivorous plants.

In these dark days I take comfort in knowing there are such men as Adrian Slack, although sadly he is no longer with us. Satish Kumar, the ecologist and Editor of Resurgence also comes to mind. When a young man of twenty five he learned that Bertrand Russell was going to jail as a result of his demonstrating for peace. Russell was ninety at the time.

The young Kumar suddenly asked himself what he was doing idly drinking coffee in India when Bertrand Russell at his grand old age was prepared to be jailed because he saw the proliferation of nuclear weapons as a terrible thing. He and a friend set out from the grave of Mahatma Gandhi to walk to the four capitals of the countries with nuclear weapons. With no funds they managed in two years first to reach Moscow, then Paris where they went on to London and met Bertrand Russell.

He bought them first class tickets on the Queen Mary to New York and from there they walked to Washington D.C. The whole trip was made as a pilgrimage and without funds. People helped them at every step of their journey as the passed through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey and on through the former Soviet Union to Moscow. The same occurred when they travelled west from Moscow visiting the Poland, Germany and onto Paris. The French helped them to reach England.

As a young man I knew nothing of this, and instead simply pursued my self-interest. I was rather like the character Daniel Cleaver in Bridget Jones’ Diary. When one day Bridget attempts to make intelligent conversation with him by casually asking: ‘What do you think of the situation in Chechnya?’ he retorts: ‘I don’t give a fuck, Jones’.

My life, as a human being, began when in my early forties the career that had nurtured me for the first half of my life dropped away together with wives and children and a little more money than I possessed. I was sad, and frustrated, of course but also with the losses came a liberation. I returned for a while to the town where I grew up as a child. My contemporaries had aged, where I by comparison had not. A few had died along the way victims of the dark side of counter-culture, but many were pleased to see me and more than a few helped me to find my feet.

It seemed right to celebrate Christmas then because the nativity is more than the simple tale of a baby born in humble circumstances, it’s also the story of wise men and simple working folk coming together to revere the birth of something pure. Indeed some claim the whole story is based on earlier myths that have their roots in astronomy where these tales denote the the vernal equinox moving out of one constellation and into the next. In the case of the nativity this represented the passage from Aries, (the Ram often appearing as a symbol in the Old Testament), into Pisces – the sign of the fish which early Christians used as a sign of their faith and which today still appears as bumper stickers, lapel badges and the like to serve the same purpose.

I loved the way that old town celebrated community, be it Christmas, Easter, or an autumn fair. In some senses the place feels as much my physical self as these fingers with which I now type.

The difficulty I have with Christmas is that it’s marred today by consumerism and gluttony. It’s difficult to admit this because to do so invites accusations of being a ‘scrooge’, but Scrooge’s problem wasn’t that he did not agree with Christmas but that he failed to acknowledge the importance of anything in life apart from the acquisition of money. In this sense there are many more Scrooge’s in the world today than in Dicken’s time even if they celebrate the Yuletide.

If I had to choose a year to mark the beginning of the modern Christmas, I would undoubtedly set upon 1843 for it was then that Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ appeared for the first time and a young civil servant named Henry Cole set upon the idea of the commercial Christmas card as a way to stimulate the Uniform Penny Post. This service had been set up by Rowland Hill three years earlier but had failed to ignite the public imagination. Cole would later come up with the idea of The Great Exhibition, which resulted in the building of The Crystal Palace.

The World's First Commercial Christmas Card.

The World’s First Commercial Christmas Card.

Christmas cards were an overnight sensation, and continued to grow in popularity throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries until the decline of postal mail due to the Internet.

To have experienced the sense of optimism that fuelled the Christmas visions of Dickens and Cole must have been like taking L.S.D. Back then the effects of industrialization, especially pollution, were largely unknown and manufacturing seemed to herald a powerful, energetic, future. The mechanized slaughter of two world wars was yet to occur, and science was making inroads into curing disease, especially by reinventing effective sewage systems that kept waste out of drinking water.

The trouble is that this industrial dream turned into such a nightmare that we shifted our manufacturing base abroad so those in other places could wallow in the mire, and in exchange sink us in a sea of plastic Barbie Dolls, My Little Pony’s and this year’s ‘latest thing’ to make our children happy for ten minutes. Do you remember the ‘Cabbage Patch Dolls’?

Remarkably there are psychologists employed by manufacturers whose job it is to devise ways to entice children to make the lives of their parent’s hell unless they buy some God awful thing, or another, from the company catalogue. A society that rewards people for setting children against parents is not one to which I wish to belong.

Scrooge celebrates Christmas with Bob Marley, 1843.

Scrooge celebrates Christmas with Bob Marley, 1843.

This year we intend to mark Christmas modestly. It’s a relief to know that there will be no mince pies, pudding, fowl, or much more food than we usually consume. These days I rarely drink, and when I do enjoy it less and less. I will reserve it for when travelling by motor coach at night when a flask of whisky is an aid to slumber.

I continue to send stuff through the postal mail at different times of the year, because I want to and not because of any kind of seasonal obligation.

For the first time in memory I look forward to Christmas.

May God help the rest of you ;)

A Rant About Health and Education in Rural Turkey

After last night’s storm the air was clear. I went onto the bedroom balcony and looked down into the pool. There was a dead body floating on the surface of a foot, or so, of murky water in it. The body was face down. I could not see the face, nor make out the gender and unlike in the case of Gatsby there was no gunshot wound, or sign of a struggle.

‘Damn’, I thought, ‘this means trouble’, and trouble was the last thing needed today because since precisely two o’clock the previous afternoon my head throbbed as a result of sharing my daughter’s childborne illness, a gift from her school where there is an epidemic of coughing, nausea and sickness.

The village doctor is overwhelmed. But it’s partly her own fault because she insists on excusing children from their education one day at a time. When sickness goes on for three days she sends kids to the State Hospital where they can see a proper doctor who is better at making excuses.

brain-injecton

How come in a family where most meals are wholesome, and study is encouraged our child got sick? It’s a totally state-induced phenomenon. She won’t use the school toilets because there is no toilet paper and they stink. This isn’t an oversight, it’s because the headmistress refers to the children as belonging to the families of peasants and thinks this is why they stuff the plumbing with whatever they can in attempt to strike a blow against the system.

My sympathies are with them. Ever since our daughter started school our lives changed for the worse. Teachers ask us how we manage to have such a bright, sociable and keen child? It’s not difficult, and a good start is to not think of her as a peasant, even though we choose to live in the countryside.

Holding your wee is a common cause of urinary tract infection. Lots of children hold their wee in our village school, and so there’s lots of urinary tract infections.

The African-American author and songwriter James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) described systems perfectly in his spiritual work ‘Dem Bones‘.

“Toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the heel bone
Heel bone connected to the ankle bone
Ankle bone connected to the shin bone
Shin bone connected to the knee bone
Knee bone connected to the thigh bone
Thigh bone connected to the hip bone
Hip bone connected to the back bone
Back bone connected to the shoulder bone
Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone
Neck bone connected to the head bone
Now hear the word of the Lord.”

Unfortunately in bureaucracies little seems to be connected to anything else. The lack of proper sanitation arrangements in the lavatories at the school penalizes those who conform to the values of civilized toiletry, whilst scoring a victory for ‘the peasants’.

The ‘peasants’ are revolting simply because a system that sets homework tasks that last from two to four hours most nights means that in order to have a life they cannot comply with those demands. This in turn means that they see themselves as failing, and get called out by teachers who, in turn, regard them not simply as ‘peasants’ but also ‘ignorant peasants’.

No wonder they kick back whenever they can!

Our worthy doctor, she of the one day note, could be taking up the issue of the problem with the school’s toilet facilities, after all it has become a public health issue and the cost in her time and medicines, subsidized via the government health care system, would seem to warrant it, even if the health and comfort of those ‘peasant children’ under her charge is considered unimportant.

It is as if, to quote James Weldon Johnson:

“Ezekiel disconnected dem dry bones,
Ezekiel disconnected dem dry bones,
Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones,
Now hear the word of the Lord.”

The trouble is, however, whilst many claim to hear the words of the omnipresent and omnipotent Lord, who in turn, appreciates all these connections within creation the Lord for some reason finds it impossible to intervene. Professor Stephen Hawking expressed it thus:

“While the rules of the universe may have been ordained by God . . . it seems that He does not intervene in the universe to break the laws” (Black Holes and Baby Universes, p. 98).

No doubt our doctor, and the head of the village school feel that in the absence of a God capable of intervention it would be remiss of them to attempt to do more to come to the aid of those whom they are paid to help? Perhaps it’s more than their job’s worth? I wouldn’t know? Maybe it’s simply that the Lord ordained that doctors and head teachers in our part of the world are plain stupid . . . but I know that this is not the case, for both are doing their best whilst neither knows what to do.

The problems are systemic. No one is really to blame, except perhaps God who made a universe in which he finds it impossible to intervene. To be more constructive Nabi Avci, who holds a PhD in communication studies from Anadolu University, and is the Minister of National Education needs to take steps to reform the entire education system so that it raises the self esteem of students and teachers alike.

As I type the body is removed from the pool. A helpful man from the local council, a worker rather than educated doctor or teacher, did it. He understands corpses in pools are health hazards, and that health hazards are the responsibility of all of us. He did not complain, or refer us elsewhere but took action. No doubt our headteacher would have thought of him as a peasant yet to my mind he was today far more helpful than she and perhaps should be taking lessons from him.

Homicide is not suspected. We don’t know how the cat came to be in the pool just that its ninth life came to a wet and undignified end there.

Must You Still Dress For Power And Success?

I’m unsure whether I was first attracted to ‘Power’ or ‘Success’. Both were books written by Michael Korda before he became the Editor in Chief of the publisher Simon & Schuster of New York. Korda makes a big thing of being the nephew of Sir Alexander Korda, who did much to found the British motion picture industry, although he was Hungarian. I am unsure why he does so, because his own achievements are just as impressive – but there you are, even the greatest among us may be overshadowed by flamboyant relatives.

SubstanceandShadow

Power: How to get it and how to use it‘, and ‘Success: How every man or woman can achieve it‘ today seem dated. They are written for the business heroes of the 1970s, who were executives rather than entrepreneurs. I still have copies of both books, but sadly not here so I may refer to them as I write, but rather in my study in Istanbul where I rarely spend time and even more rarely write.

Stephen Potter, wrote of similar matters in a humorous way. SupermanshipWhat I remember is that Korda’s books were illustrated with cartoons that may just as easily have been printed in Potter’s somewhat tongue in cheek works on the same topics over a decade before. Lifemanship, Gamesmanship, Oneupmanship, and Supermanship could never be taken as seriously as Korda’s work, but they too contained elements of truth about the kinds of Games People Played back in the 1960s and 1970s.

So why am I writing today about these old books?

Well it’s because they are all about image making, and how you project yourself into the world. They suggest ways to show your status, and make the most of your history and family, even if you were born into poor, or modest circumstances. For Potter and Korda life was a battleground to be fought with every individual encountered, often through guerilla tactics if their written words are to be believed.

None of the books really helped me. At the time I acquired them I was in the wrong business for sporting a Cartier Tank Watch to impress boards of directors. It’s true Korda recommended that, as a Brit, my watch should be silver and thin – which it was until foolishly I decided to buy the kind of thing that Sir Dirk Bogarde might have worn whilst blowing up a bridge in wartime Crete, you know all dials and buttons. But truly, I doubt that sporting the wrong wrist watch did anything to dent my career.

A complications wristwatch, created for the promotional video for Photography and Psychoanalysis.

A complications wristwatch, created for the promotional video for Photography and Psychoanalysis.

That said, when I seriously sought promotion I bought a couple of really good suits, some tailored shirts and silk ties for use in interviews, and when I finally got the job I desired I continued to improve my wardrobe so substantially that one of my bosses referred to me as the best dressed man in the borough.

During the last ten years as a beachcomber sartorial elegance hasn’t played any part in my life. Like as not you would find me wearing flip flops, Crocs, or rubber boots. Often in shorts, and T shirts bought from the market life was simple and I was content. From time to time people would come upon me and take pains to show themselves to be superior, in wealth, or taste, or influence, and if possible all three, but their antics left me untouched. Besuited or T Shirted I am essentially the same naked individual underneath.

One such fellow remarked casually that if I went to China I could probably get a job teaching English as a foreign language. A few days later, and much to his chagrin, he met one of my students from Istanbul to whom I had taught family therapy just a few years earlier. “I had no idea you were a distinguished teacher”, he said apologetically. I was bemused at how without changing anything about my appearance, or demeanour, the behaviour of my neighbour had completely turned around.

Something similar happened to me this week. I have been filming some interviews and for the first time in many years was sporting a tweed suit. Suddenly a young chap gravitated toward me at speed across his bar. “Oh Stephen”, he exclaimed, “It’s you – I saw a distinguished looking man in a suit”, he meant a man in a distinguished looking suit, “and wondered who it might be!”

The very next day he introduced me to an acquaintance as ‘a reklamci’, which roughly translates as ‘Don Draper‘. Prior to the incident with the suit I was not held by him to have any profession at all, which is rather the way I like it. Nevertheless, this week I have experimented with smartening up my act, and lo and behold, I find that how you dress does impact upon how people treat you.

Sir Noel Coward once asserted that the way to success in any endeavor is to dress like an stock broker. He, of course, had superb sartorial taste – but he also had considerable talent. My belief is that dressing isn’t a matter of fashion, but rather of marking out who you intend to play in the game of life. Make no mistake if you fail to manage your own self image, others will accord all kinds of unwelcome projections upon you. How you deal with them is your affair ;)

Is University Education A Good Thing?

Just William Never Cared For School

Just William Never Cared For School

On the eve of my first day in school I announced to my mother that I could ‘see no point in it’ and that I wanted to go ‘straight to work’. She informed me that I had to go to school, and especially so since my father was the school attendance man, and anyway school would teach me many useful things that I would need in life.

In my opinion she was wrong. It’s true that I learned to read and write, but I could just as easily have learned to do that at home. The same is true for maths.

Ayen Qureshi, who is just five years old, recently became Microsoft’s youngest qualified computer specialist having successfully completed a course designed for university graduates. There are also six year old children who have passed this course. They taught themselves, and when stuck asked their parents for help.

Education, as we know it, is a fairly modern activity. It did not come about due to altruism on the part of the educated classes, but because a level of basic education was required of foremen and higher managers as the Industrial Revolution took shape in the late eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Colonization also played a part, for once again people overseas needed to keep in contact with families and employers before the invention of the Internet, telephone, or telegraph.

Prior to the eighteenth century, and especially prior to the Reformation, education was largely carried out within the church, which in turn was at odds with Newton’s ideas about a mechanically governed universe. It was due to Newton being born in England, where the official religion was a Protestant church, and therefore at odds with Rome, that enabled his ideas to take hold here. It may be argued, were this not the case then, industrialization would not have started in the United Kingdom for industrialization requires both a mechanistic view of life, unfortunately this includes people, and sufficient physical laws upon which to calculate matters such as the power of steam engines, and the velocity of shuttles flying across looms in factories.

Merchants, of too, always required some education and gentry were not untutored. Eton College was founded in 1440, but not as a place where the sons of landowners were to be educated but as a place awarding scholarships for the education of those who would go on to Christ’s College Cambridge and most likely sing as choristers. The church was, until the Industrial Revolution, very much a profit-oriented concern as well as providing medical care, for the poor, and scribes to the rich – thus keeping church officials aware of important state and commercial information.

There was absolutely no reason for the bulk of the population of the British Isles, or anywhere else come to that, to be educated prior to industrialization, and as industry becomes more digitized in our century some of the powerful elite may wonder to what extent people need to be educated, and to what levels, today? Education means trouble doesn’t it? Wasn’t Marx an educated sort of a cove?

Ayen Qureshi may be the youngest qualified Microsoft Specialist, but his ability to acquire such skills is shared by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who today is known as a philanthropist because he gives away millions of dollars to worthy causes. These are largely replaced as he sleeps due to the way wealth accrues more and money once the financial system is primed beyond a certain level. To lose this advantage you have to dissolve your money across several generations – and maybe throw some of it at politics, as has happened to the Rockerfeller fortune.

An ASR-33 Computer Terminal, similar to the one Bill Gates used to program in his teens.

An ASR-33 Computer Terminal, similar to the one Bill Gates used to program in his teens.

Gates, and some of his friends, were able to access a General Electric mainframe computer via a Teletype Model 33 ASR terminal purchased privately due to some mothers raising funds for the computer club at for Lakeside School, Seattle. He, and his friends, were around thirteen years of age at the time. Gates graduated from school and went on to Harvard College, from which he dropped out in 1974 when he decided to form his own company.

Gates’s contemporary, Steve Jobs was born to graduate parents in 1955 and subsequently adopted. His natural parents wanted Steve to receive a college education and after school Jobs attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon. There he studied calligraphy, but dropped out after six months. For the next two years he was to continue to attend classes at the college in subjects that interested him, even though he wasn’t officially a student.

The writer Hunter S. Thompson was at Columbia University auditing a number of courses. A student who audits a course does so for the purposes of self-enrichment and academic exploration with no hope of being graded, or obtaining any type of credit. He, and Jobs, discovered it’s one of the best ways to learn.

Another successful writer who failed to graduate, but ranged widely through university was Evelyn Waugh, whose chosen university was Oxford. His unfortunate tutor C.R.M.F. Crutwell the Dean of Hertford College, Oxford from 1920-25, was to find namesakes scattered through Waugh’s early novels usually as unflattering characters.

Going back further in time we discover that the Reverend Engle, who was charged with the education of a young Thomas Edison found him to be “addled” and after just three months of formal education kicked him out of school. Edison recalled later, “My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me; and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.” His mother taught him at home.

Edison was perhaps in his day what Steve Jobs was to our generation – more an entrepreneur than inventor, someone with a knack of knowing what people want and the ability to gather around him a talented team who would enable his companies to provide it.

Larry Ellison does not like to be number two, but although incredibly successful, (thought to be America’s third richest with an estimated net worth of $28 billion), he tends to be eclipsed by Gates’s wealth, and Jobs’s innovation, (Jobs was worth $10.2 billion when he died). Like Jobs and many before him, Ellison dropped out of college – he is perhaps a super-achiever in this respect because he did so not just once, but twice. The first time was from the University of Illinois, and the second the University of Chicago.

Elon Musk is a South Africa-born, Canadian American business owner. His ambition is to travel to Mars and he started SpaceX, which sells rocket technology to NASA in order to be on the forefront of space exploration. He also is chairman of SolarCity, which pumps more solar powered electricity from rooftops back into the U.S. grid than any other company. He was one of the co-founders of PayPal but today is perhaps best known as the owner of Tesla Motors, which is struggling to revolutionize, and rejuvenate, the American automobile industry.

Unlike the others I mention Musk obtained two graduate degrees, and only dropped out of college, albeit after just two days, when he moved to California to begin a PhD in applied physics at Stanford.

Nicola Tesla, whose name was adopted by Musk for his electric cars, had no university education but after working with Edison went on to found his own company and register a number of patents. Every one of us owes him. Alternating electricity (A.C.), that companies use to distribute electricity from the grid was his idea. Edison’s system that sent more dangerous direct current (D.C.) was a considerable fire risk. His patents are truly diverse in topic, and even included a vertical take off aircraft registered between World War I and World War II.

It goes without saying that our England’s Richard Branson eschewed university education in favour of doing his own thing. Some say this was because his dyslexia would have precluded academic success. It certainly didn’t prevent him amassing a personal fortune of 4.9 billion dollars.

I could go on . . . Hemingway . . . David Ogilvy, (founder of the advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather); Claude Hopkins, (probably the world most successful copywriter), Writer Jack Kerouac; John Lennon failed all his GCE O-level examinations but managed to get into art school; Helmut Newton, who never went to university but instead had a thorough apprenticeship; David Bailey, who had enough of being an apprentice after eight months and went into business for himself . . . oh this is too boring to continue!

The point I’m struggling to make is that if your child is laboring under a weight of unnecessary homework, rigorous academic demands, and pressures inflicted by mediocre people in salaried jobs do your best to encourage them. Never, ever, put them under pressure to conform, or complete repetitive unnecessary work. Don’t fret over their grades but rather wish them full happy lives. Do your best to give them strong moral, but not judgmental, guidance, and if they have an just one exceptional, inspirational idea – mortgage your house and back them to the hilt, they could well be the best investment you ever make.

Featured image photo credit: agaumont via photopin cc

Two Writers And A Big Mac!

Based of figures obtained from the web site ‘Calorie Count‘ you would need to type for one thousand and fifty hours in order to burn off the calories consumed when you eat a ‘Big Mac‘.

Le Big Mac

‘Le Big Mac’

That’s a lot of typing. An average professional typist types usually in speeds of 50 to 80 wpm. It is measured in “Keystrokes per hour,” or KPH. Many jobs will require a certain KPH, often 8,000 or 10,000. This works out at 2,500 words if the average length of a word is five characters.

Calculated on this basis Ernest Hemingway could have typed ‘A Farewell To Arms‘ in two thousand five hundred hours, on the energy of swallowing just forty point four Big Macs, (which include cheese).

Fortunately the world was never to read a Big Mac fueled Hemingway novel. It wasn’t until 1967 that Jim Dellgatti, a Pittsburgh based MacDonald franchisee made the first of these iconic cheeseburgers. Hemingway missed this opportunity by ‘passing-over’ in 1961, a full six years before the Big Mac debuted. Unfortunately for him electro-shock treatment had already been invented, and psychiatrists had pretty much fried Hemingway’s brain by the time of his death.

An article published in The Daily Telegraph in October, 2009 collates some research, which suggests that had Hemingway typed a novel on a diet of junk food the result may not have been much different than if he had attempted to write whilst under the influence of electro-shock.

Electric typewriters had been around since the beginning of the last century. Remington and IBM both had models on the market from the 1930s onward, but it was the IBM Selectric, introduced in the year of Hemingway’s death, that took the world by storm.

Hemingway wrote most of his later works on a Royal Quiet Deluxe, which was first introduced in 1939 and for two decades it was considered the acme of typing perfection, at least by writers. Hemingway would stand an pound into it at his Havana home throughout the thirties, but ‘A Farewell to Arms’ was created on an earlier machine.

When Hunter S. Thompson sought to hone his writing skills he copy typed every word of ‘A Farewell to Arms‘. He did so in order to enter into Hemingway’s process, claiming that every writer has a unique rhythm just as one pianist will interpret the notes of a musical score differently from another.

I don’t know what typewriter Thompson used when he reproduced Hemingway’s manuscript, but we do know that he created much of his own work on the IBM Selectric.

Shaky Science Reveals How You Too Can Type Yourself Thin!

Perhaps surprisingly, for those of us who have typed using both manual and electric typing machines, there’s no evidence that someone burns any less energy typing on an electric typewriter than on an old manual machine, such as the Royal Quiet Deluxe. In theory, however, they should.

A report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1958, titled ‘Metabolic Demands as a Factor in Weight Control,’ proposes that: A 5-foot-3, 120-pound typist used up 88 calories per hour operating a mechanical typewriter compared to 73 calories per hour on its electric counterpart. Assuming six hours of typing per day, that means 450 fewer calories burned per week. If all else stayed the same, a pound would be gained every 10 weeks, or five pounds a year.

The research also points out that standing uses more energy than sitting, and so we may conclude that, at least when he was working, Hemingway who preferred to type whilst on his feet, would have been a slimmer leaner author than someone like Hunter Thompson who preferred to type whist seated. This, of course, is/was not true.

Both Hemingway and Thompson were writers who owned typewriters and shot themselves, but there is no evidence that typing, or being published inevitably leads to suicide. Similarly, there is no data that proves that typing with an electric keyboard will make you fatter than your 1950s counterpart. It just feels right to believe so!

What about Thompson’s assertion that every writer has his own rhythm, and you need to hear the sound that his keystrokes make?

Today it is easier to do so than ever. There is a small program called ‘Jingle Keyboard‘ which comes with its own ‘typewriter’ and other sounds. For those who are particularly keen to emulate the writing experiences of their favourite authors files containing the sounds of the IBM Selectric,  and the Royal Quiet Deluxe  may be downloaded from Field Precision Software Tips.

Mac owners tend to be forward thinkers, and doubtless eschew retro-programming their hardware.

Happy clicking :)

m4s0n501

What’s the fuss about Fracking?

Barnett Shale Drilling - image David R. Tribble, Creative Commons 3.0.

Barnett Shale Drilling – image David R. Tribble, Creative Commons 3.0.

Frack (alt frak) verb: to inject liquid into (a subterranean rock formation, borehole, etc.) at high pressure so as to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas.

“Millions of gallons of water are needed to successfully frack a single well”

To extract (oil or gas) by injecting liquid into a subterranean rock formation, borehole, etc., at high pressure.

“The industry has begun to frack natural gas from shale deposits”

Sanitized replacement for ‘Fuck’ used on ‘Battlestar Galactica’.

“Why the frack are we doing this?”

You may well ask! The fact is that fracking isn’t simply about injecting water down a hole in order to bring oil to the surface. The chemical composition of fracking fluid is complex and includes many toxic components mixed in forms that do not occur naturally underground. These are potential time bombs for the water table, but are required to prevent pipes from clogging, to lubricate, to penetrate shale and other rock formations, and a host of other applications.

People argue that since fracking chemicals get ‘buried’ underground there is no need to make a fuss. Fracking must be good mustn’t it? Fossil fuels, and especially oil reserves, are now in decline – but we need oil not simply to power our automobiles, locomotive engines, aircraft and boats, but also as the raw material for the plastics that form computer keyboards, car-tyres, the polyurethane soles of our shoes, garden furniture and paint. Indeed when you look around any average room with an educated eye you are likely to find that petrochemicals have been used in the manufacture, delivery cycle, or to fuel, virtually everywhere you look.

It’s not simply that the petrochemicals industry is frightened of losing its grip as the number one force in energy production, but rather that in our post-modern age what looks like mahogany is probably some kind of block-board covered with a plastic laminate. In short, for years we have been living in a pools of processed oil disguised as either traditional, or new wonder miracle construction materials. Take all that away and life becomes very different – and that is the fear.

Some, who have experienced the effects of fracking on their lives, claim that it’s the technology itself that changes lifestyles. They would argue that it isn’t progress to despoil farmland, or pollute sources of drinking water – resulting in the poisoning of fish and fire hazards in those kitchens where highly inflammable natural gas escapes from taps along with what was once potable drinking water.

It’s easy, from far away, in boardrooms and government committees to dismiss the complaints of people such as Pat Farnelli, from Dimmock, Pennsylvania, who claims everywhere you look there is now a fracking hydraulic well. Her water now bubbles and hisses suspiciously, rather like Perrier. She is one of the lucky ones. Her water does not ignite. So is Pat just another ‘NIMBY‘?

Might it not be worth a little fizzy water if we can still transport commodities from exotic locations and in doing so keep prices low? Is not ‘progress’ littered with the corpses of those too lacking in foresight to go with the trend. It’s inevitable so why give Fracking a second thought?

Ron and Jean Carter’s water went bad a month after fracking commenced. It contained ethane and propane. A representative of the drilling company asked them if they could prove that the drilling had caused the contamination.

Norma Fierontino’s water well exploded on New Years Day, 2010. Her neighbour Debbie May’s water turned brown. She was advised not to drink it, bathe in it, wash clothing or dishes in it, or for that matter do anything else with it. She hasn’t!

Much oil and gas fracking fluid does surface and must be disposed of. Naturally there are guidelines for doing this, but human beings don’t always behave responsibly. There are reports of this material being dumped illegally onto fields and into streams. The stuff is very toxic. Some workers have received chemical burns to their hands and faces.

So far my examples have come from a small pocket of Pennsylvania, maybe these events are simply symptoms of a local environmental disaster caused by poor management on the part of the drilling company?

Mike Markham and Marsha Mendenhall hail from Colorado. Brown water comes out of their tap. The State claim that there’s nothing in it that can harm their health, but the couple buy their water from 40 miles away just to play it safe, of course that could be because the same stuff that comes out of their tap is inflammable!

Amy Elsworth, also has flammable water. Rene McClure developed headaches before discovering that she has chlorobenzene in her water, which just perhaps might be significant. Weston Wilson, who worked for the Environmental Protection Agency, reveals that an EPA report confirmed that toxic substances were being injected underground, but a panel of seven who made the final decisions had within it five people who had interests in fracking going ahead. The panel rejected the EPA warning stating that fracking posed no risk.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005, the result of 100 million dollars worth of lobbying by the oil and gas industry, contains a loophole making it legal for fracking companies to drill and inject toxic materials near residential water supplies. It is a unique piece of legislation in this respect because it circumvents The Safe Drinking Water Act, of 1974. President George Bush Jnr. apparently ordered that no further investigation into this matter was to be made by the Environmental Protection Agency.

It’s not just that these chemicals can give you testicular cancer, and lots of other nasty conditions too, but rather that they affect wash-day Monday. Out in Wyoming Rhonda Walker was doing the washing when it turned black. She and her husband Ron sued the gas company that was drilling near their home and settled for $21,000 and installed a reverse osmosis filtration system. Unfortunately, they discovered to their cost, that this process does not remove glycol ethers from water. As a result Rhonda has suffered painful neuropathy, and a great deal of expensive medical treatment, such as spinal taps. Their neighbour Lewis Meece also found his water polluted but as the gas company was not prepared to take any responsibility he decided to drill a fresh water well. It exploded and natural gas came out of it for over three days until it could be safely capped. Government statistics say the over three million cubic feet of natural gas escaped into the atmosphere. When Lewis runs the flame from a blow torch over his water the glycol ether bonds forming a film of plastic.

As if this were no enough, whole landscapes where there were once picturesque glades and beauty spots have been destroyed. In some places the changes have occurred in as little as a day after contractors moved and began creating the infrastructure required for drilling. To set up any and make ready for production requires between 150 to 200 truckloads of stuff, and this is before any toxic material is pumped underground to commence production. 400 – 600 tanker trucks are necessary to start that process plus 25 trucks for hydraulic fracture sand, and for flow back water removal 200 – 300 truck loads, which means that half the toxic chemicals that go down also come back up.

Flow back water sits in reservoirs prior to being hauled away. Here, of course, some of it may seep away, this causing further pollution to the water table and at the same time polluting the atmosphere with noxious gasses. In order to reduce the volume of fluid that needs to be shipped out the fluid is spayed into the air so that the water content evaporates. Of course all the toxic materials are also atomized as a result of this process, and these both deplete the ozone layer and at the same time fall back to earth as toxic acid rain harming people, plants and animals alike.

When gas comes out of the ground it has to be separated from impurities. This is done in a mini refinery at the drill-head. The refinery heats up the gas to 212 degrees Fahrenheit and boils off any water, which is then vented as steam into the atmosphere. Various naturally occurring toxins such as toluene are also vented with the water vapour causing further pollution.

The first preliminary study of the health effects of gas drilling was based upon Garfield County, Wyoming. Seven heath researchers from the University of Colorado found acute problems in the toxic emissions from gas development. Many people in Garfield County have severe health problems. We don’t hear about these issues because when members of the public settle with gas companies a non-disclosure agreement usually forms part of the settlement. It’s difficult to sue a rich company in any country, and no less so in the United States. The law also takes years to grind through its procedures so many of the plaintiffs suing large companies may die, for want of expensive medical care if they don’t settle. This process leads to secrecy so that news of what is happening is confined to discussions by specialists in technical reports, or government committees held in camera. In other words, we the people don’t really how fracking has impacted the lives of others.

Dee Hoffmeiser not only suffered the symptoms of toxic poisoning, she was unfortunate enough to have a rig explode near her. The storage tanks caught fire. Several other members of her family started suffering from symptoms such as bronchitis.

Dr. Theo Colborn is a distinguished scientist and former Department of Environmental Protection advisor. She has too many accolades to list here. She says, “Every environmental law written to protect public health is ignored”. She claimed in one interview the kinds of problem people exposed to pollution due to fracking include: dizziness, headaches, leading to in just a few years irreversible brain damage. “Your extremities, especially your arms and legs expand. The pain can be excruciating.”

Workers, and those living in the neighbourhood of fracking sites are exposed to the toxic chemicals giving rise to these kinds of symptoms. Your taste and smell deteriorates over time removing your ability to detect danger through smell, or enjoy freshly harvested food, as if such a commodity were possible near a fracking well.

The companies have succeeded in hiding what they are doing by using proprietary cocktails of chemicals to inject into the earth’s crust. They have no obligation to disclose what goes into any single product, and so no agency is charged with monitoring what they are doing. It’s a beautiful ‘Catch-22‘.

According to a 2014 report by the American Chemical Society the contents of the fluids involved in fracking raises several concerns about fracking fluid ingredients. Out of nearly 200 commonly used compounds, there is very little known about the potential health risks of about one-third, and eight are toxic to mammals.

In some marshy areas gas can be collected in an upturned funnel and ignited. In other streams rising bubbles may be lit with a match. Imagine the effect that fracking would have on the geology of England’s Somerset Levels, but this is just one area of England that may soon have its own fracking wells and the concomitant kinds of disturbance described above.

And, of course, the water supplies cited are private wells and boreholes located on people’s property. In England we get potable water from our taps courtesy of our local water authorities, so what’s the problem? Unfortunately, we don’t have a national water network so in the event that a major reservoir is affected, and if it is it will be for a long time if not for ever, it is impossible to use water from other locations to provide relief.

Robert Gatliff, director of energy and marine geoscience at the British Geological Survey warned that Britain will need a thousand of successful shale wells a year meet demand. He bases this statement upon the amount of oil extracted per well-head in the U.S.A., which presupposes that the process in England will be no more efficient than those in America.

You might think, all the examples I’ve cited come from America where they are all nutters and corporate greed is known to overwhelm the average citizen – but we’re British and far more sophisticated, Magna Carta and all that!

Just as in the U.S. it all seems a done deal. On September 26th the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said it will press ahead with proposals to simplify underground access for oil and gas developers despite the objection of 99 percent of respondents to a consultation.

It’s hardly surprising that so many object. Aside from the financial implications for landowners there’s a small matter of the risk of earthquakes. According to a report in ‘New Scientist‘: “A magnitude-2.3 earthquake occurred on 1 April, followed by a magnitude-1.5 quake on 27 May, 2011. Both occurred close to the Preese Hall drilling site, where Cuadrilla Resources was using fracking to extract gas from a shale bed.”

Similar concerns about the increase in earthquakes in the USA, and their connection to fracking are reported on ScienceMag.org, as well as on U.S. Government web sites such as the United States Geological Survey.

A statement from the the U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “New laws will now be passed giving automatic access for gas and oil development below 300 meters and a notification and compensation scheme will be run by the industry on a voluntary basis.

“It is essential that we make the most of home-sourced energy and start exploring the natural energy supplies beneath our feet. As the cleanest fossil fuel shale gas provides a bridge to much greener future.”

The Conservative energy minister, Matt Hancock, said: “These new rules will help Britain to explore the great potential of our national shale gas and geothermal resources, as we work towards a greener future – and open up thousands of new jobs in doing so.”

Well he would, wouldn’t he?

*much of the information in this post was originally revealed in the award winning documentary film ‘Gasland‘.