Wednesday, 11 May 2011


I want to stay up all night and pound the streets.
Nothing is solid in life but the concrete
under my feet

I want to sit on a beach and watch the sun
rise over the sea. When all's said and done
I'll still be free

When life is filled with colour
how can people see in black and white?
Should I fight? I think might
just so that I can feel alive

How can I feel malcontent when I've been told
we've never had it so good; the future's gold.
Fuck what I'm told

I don't want to reaffirm all my choices
continually for all of my life but
I'm cursed to be free

And that's the way it has to be

Thursday, 5 May 2011


He is but a man, although to define “man” is a task in itself. We can leave describing and defining man as a whole to the anthropologist. Our man is much easier to explain and describe, although perhaps his motives for behaviour are not as easily understood as, for example Dostoevsky's 'Prince'. Where behaviour and motive fulfil a story and its framework, this should be left to literary giants, for this is no story.

Our man has a name which not only affects how other perceive him but also how he sees himself. His parents had given him a name which reflected, perhaps unconsciously their hopes and dreams for this, their first child. All of the paths they feel they have missed, the experiences they wish they had have been projected upon their first son.

A man amongst others cannot only act for himself and this is certainly the case for our man. Outward actions and inward motives may be achromatic negative however, and he revels in this; finding comedy like the Greeks. Laughing at the tragedy which personifies human experience. Does this show poor morality on his behalf? No. It only shows awareness of the conditions he must live in, if he is to live at all. So he writes these down and frames them as somebody else's experiences, using them in the same way that masks are used in Noh.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Concrete Jungle

As far as I can make out, nobody can see the world as I see it. Around ten years ago, when I was nineteen; the world started to transform. The office blocks down town, the houses surrounding mine began to resemble something else altogether. At first, I could only hear animal noises on the wind, the rustling of dead leaves and detritus whenever I walked outside. These alien noises became the norm over the next year or so despite my early suspicions that they weren't, couldn't be real.

A doctor once told me I had frontal lobe epilepsy, this turned out to be a misdiagnosis. Doctors tell me a lot of things. None of these gave a full account as to why I inhabited a completely different world and didn't care. Before she died, my mum hedged her bets on some sort of social phobia, thinking I was lying when I described how the ferns surrounding the corner shop slowed my journey home.

Lying as an excuse to avoid social contact. Autism. Aspergers Syndrome. Simply attention seeking. Just whatever seemed to roughly stick.

I've been on medication previously for bi-polar depression.

It didn't work.

I don't have bi-polar depression.

A number of weeks ago my doctor informed me that he thinks I have schizophrenia and wanted to try me on a prescription. An anti-psychotic. I told him I would think about it.

Three weeks later, I'm still thinking about it.

I have been diagnosed so many times and by so many doctors, individuals, internet health pages. With doctors, any diagnosis will do so that the conveyor belt of passengers continues to move. Did you know that in the United States where medical care is paid for through insurance for the majority of people, this conveyor belt often dictates life? When birth rates have slowed down, as they typically do in a natural ebb and flow of human life, obstetricians often recommend birth by Caesarean section, instead of a natural birth. Lower birth rates will typically equal lower income for the hospital in general and the doctors in specific. Can you guess which birthing method is more expensive? I don't think it is hard to understand why I distrust the medical community.

I left school and had no idea what to do next. I became a member of the growing unemployed community and walked around in my own daydreaming world while pretending to be looking for jobs. After the noises became regular and normal to me, I became aware of the buildings changing colour; the pavements and roads degenerated into dirt tracks, streams and marshes. For reasons unknown to me at the time, my world was gradually changing into a maze of building shaped trees until almost without notice, the city had disappeared. Whole neighbourhoods were surrounded by fast flowing rivers. My old school, a monolithic '80's greyscale feature, was replaced by a ruined building covered in vines. I was amazed by these changes. Instead of being confused or scared, I soon realised that the world as it was now made a lot of sense. Walking around town became a magnificent sensual spectrum of smells, colours and sights. The cold grey world became a world filled with excitement. The only thing that made me feel sad was that nobody else seemed to react to these changes. I soon realised that these changes were only for me and without me, this whole environment would disappear...

In primary school, a life skills teacher warned us of the dangers of keeping your emotions inside. “It is healthy to open that bottle sometimes”, she had told us. I didn't know what to make of it; who keeps the lid screwed firmly on their emotions? It seemed like such a bizarre metaphor at the time. I now often think of myself holding my happiness on a string to stop it floating away from me. Fear isn't the mind killer that it is made out to be; you just need to know how to stop its darkness from blinding you. Each emotion a puzzle.
Like a Columbus egg.

The drive to find out what is wrong with me doesn't come from me. I don't think there is anything wrong with me at all. The problem is everyone else. The drive to get to the root of this comes from my one and only friend John. He was once my therapist but when my mum died, I had no idea how to pay. He is now my friend instead. It always seems that he is desperate for me to be “normal”. I ignore his obsession for normality and he seems too ignores that I tell him things that make him uncomfortable. It's a fair trade.

He doesn't like when I tell him that to me, death is almost tangible, like smoke. I can feel and see it. It doesn't have a smell. He is disturbed when I lose my emotions. I keep them in my pocket but sometimes lose them. During these times I have to hunt for them, completely void of emotion and my face stuck in what he calls a blunted affect. After recounting this to a doctor, he described this as anhedonia but I looked this up on wikipedia at the library and it said nothing about losing your emotions like you lose your keys, or someone's phone number; only that the individual cannot feel pleasure.

One time, I found my emotions stuck in the muddy bank of a stream outside the tax office. Nobody can understand how this feels.

For the past three weeks, I've been contemplating medicating. Weighing up the pros and cons.

I can't remember what a sunrise looks like any more. All I see are the spotlights that the thick canopy so far above my head allows. It might be nice to see the sun rise. On the other hand, I'm so used to seeing greens and browns, windows in trees, vine thickets. How would I adapt to something that was last familiar ten years ago? I spent almost a week sitting alone in my hut with these thoughts. The most bizarre aspects of my world would be gone – a good thing. Who really wants to see a huge tiger roar down the street, only for people to get in and out its ear at regular intervals? No matter who you are, this site is disturbing.

If I was on some sort of medication, would what I see be regulated? At the moment, the inside of any building is the same as before but if I look out the window all I see is jungle. From the outside, the library is the biggest tree I've ever seen, a very old and ornate African mahogany with rotating doors built into the trunk. Inside, it's all books and posters encouraging kids to read. What feels consistent now will become unpredictable on medication.

Sometimes I feel like I am alone in this city.

The only human walking amongst animals in a concrete jungle.

The first time I heard that phrase it instantly struck a chord somewhere inside me. Concrete jungle. As if there were a number of different species, each adapted perfectly to a certain part of the ecosystem. Revolutionary primates and artist-birds floating, climbing, mating amongst and above the foliage; above the office worker bureaucrat ants who toil tirelessly in the dirt below. Yet with the multitude of different species in this jungle, I feel like the only human, walking along on my own path, tied to no determined outcome. The way I see it, the common link between birds and ants is that their lives consist of the same tasks, every day: wake, collect food, eat, shit, sleep. This schedule is built into the social fabric of the jungle, there is no escaping it.

Instinctual tasks for the kingdom of animals within this concrete jungle, giving life meaning. There is no need to wonder about the meaning of life, since that is predetermined by the next task on the list. Finished working for the day? Go home and laugh at an American sit-com. Meta-narratives have no purpose since the only one that matters is in and around everything. The perpetuation of the jungle is key to the mental, social and physical survival of all these animals. But I somehow managed to be out of sync.

That's where I find myself now. In transition, a decision between a living city and a living jungle. The features of both are as clear and real to me as the water and the air around me, as real as I am. I've found my purpose.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Modern Man

This is just me trying to be as descriptive as possible. Let me know what you think.

His face framed in constant disgust , perpetually on the cusp of frothing. Eyebrows shaped in the sharp 'V' of scepticism above his eyes, thin slits glaring misanthropy at anyone who dares to meet his stare. A mind full of retorts, spring loaded for fast response from his downwards, slightly pursed lips. Offence is the best form of defence, he has learned. Wasps are killed on sight. Before his morning coffee, his sharply acidic tongue meets no resistance and shoots forth venom at anyone unfortunate to cross his path. Before coffee, looks can kill.

Later in the day, he can be found behind a desk; answering the 'phone; typing; reading. The busyness of modern life ensures a focus as deep as the ocean. The smallest fracture in his business is magnified tenfold and appears tectonic. Lunchtime however, brings a 360 shift, nothing is as important as food.


The spread sheet which was the centre of his whole universe is now frozen behind a locked Windows 7 screen, patiently waiting for his return. One hundred per cent focus is now on lunch, where he regains perspective.

After lunch, more of the same. The scowl he wore this morning has been replaced by a concentration and focus only worker bees and monks know. The question still remains; why scowl? Why do his eyes fire daggers as a default setting? Could it be his go-to as a form of defence? This only holds true to strangers but why be on the defensive with friends or colleagues? If we ask “why so mean?” might we be greeted with the same steely stare? Does he even know?

The emphasis in his culture is to be creative, individual. Realise your free will. This has led him to a realisation that others have this same free will. We can only control what we do, our own free will. Not that of other people. His culture also emphasises mistrust of strangers. Who are all these people? Paedophiles, fraudsters, terrorists: Would-be criminals. He assumes the worst because he has no control over them. Without control, what stops things going downhill? Before coffee, he thinks of nothing but this.

He leaves his desk at the end of the day, scowl intact. A day's work: typing, frowning, calculating, shoulders shrugged over and lumbar strain is finally done. This day's work, completely in misery, pays for the weekend's smiles. This could be anywhere.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Why study at all?

I've been paying attention to the political debates regarding the future of education in Scotland. This has often come round to people asking what the purpose of education is. To some, it is the opportunity to learn, simply for the sake of learning. The search for truth and knowledge is as noble a pursuit as I think is possible. For others, the purpose of education is to provide the economy with a workforce at all levels. These two viewpoints are invariably always going to appear in any discussion on education but my recent thoughts are that they are not mutually exclusive and I'd like to explain why I think so.

The viewpoint of academics themselves is that learning for the sole purpose of learning should be an unequivocally available feature of any first world society and is one of the most important aspects which can help those in poverty remove themselves from that situation. I often find myself of this view, and I think that a university degree in philosophy or history is just as valuable and important as a science or vocational degree, such as engineering. Both a philosophy and an engineering degree provide the individual with a deep and complex understanding of how the world works. Engineers have an in-depth knowledge of the mechanisms of the modern industrialised world whereas philosophers have in-depth knowledge of the mechanisms of the modern rational world. University education and a hunger for knowledge has given both of these individuals tools to better understand and manage not only in our society, but in other societies as well, albeit in very different ways. There is a reason that the three most powerful MP's in the UK (Cameron, Osbourne and Clegg) all studied philosophy – it teaches you how to argue and how to elucidate arguments; how to think rationally. Both the engineer and the philosopher have equipped themselves well for employment, yes. But this is not always the primary concern for either.

The second viewpoint is that education is simply to put bodies into jobs and to provide a workforce capable of enhancing the economy. In this viewpoint, those who study at university for the sole purpose of learning are often discounted. The popular media are very fond of the term “Mickey Mouse degree” in which philosophy and sociology are oft quoted. These”Mickey Mouse degrees” are claimed to add nothing to society and nothing to the economy because they do not train people in a trade or allow them to make an obvious way to contribute to the economy. Where I think this view fits in with the first is in the notion that to improve anything, you must be self critical, innovative and possess the relevant skills to make things change. If a business is floundering or wishes to improve, they must evaluate themselves critically in the same way a sociologist or philosopher would objectively evaluate an argument or a theory. They must be innovative enough to solve any problems they come across and to exploit any strengths they find which any student involved in any subject in the realm of 'humanities' learns, no more so than those who study economics or business. Finally, the relevant skills to make things change have to involve critical analysis of texts which anyone who studied literary classics will know. Practical intelligence is having a way with words and being able to argue your case well enough to convince people who are sceptical. This is tested no more than in the humanities, many of which are classed as “Mickey Mouse degrees”.

Even if you are of the opinion that all higher education should be specifically tailored to a specific industry or role, you cannot argue that having a flexible skill set that allows you navigate many employment environments is anything but a good thing. You also cannot argue against an education which allows individuals to explore a number of vastly different career choices before deciding on what they want to. Both of these things are compatible with both viewpoints I outlined at the start. Strict arguments from either side completely ignore this shared ground, including those from MP's and the people who run the country, as entrenched as they are in party politics rather than improving this countries education system for the better.

Saturday, 12 March 2011


            I had just finished throwing up when I heard someone calling my name from outside.  Licking the bitter saliva from my lips and spitting it into the toilet, I turned to leave the cubicle.  On opening the door and seeing the bathroom, I was once again punched in the xiphisternum by my conscience which almost put me down to one knee; a slight stumble.  Appropriately, it felt as though I had been punched by the tip of a sword.
            The door frame is a reliable wing man to every drunk, as it was to me at that moment.
            The green marble on the walls and the sincere expression on the face of the Nigerian immigrant worker selling a spray of cologne for £1 forced me to choke back a snort at the presentation of this juxtaposition. He is a big man, and I could tell by the way his cheap shirt pulls at his trapezius that he either spends a lot of time with a pull up bar or he has a second job carrying heavy loads.  Probably both.  From the compassion displayed in his eyes; despite no doubt being paid less than minimum wage and having to play Houdini multiple times a night in situations where aggressive drunks who have been stood up too many times in one night want to take their frustration out on someone, I could also deduce he was most probably in the country on a student visa and restricted to working only 20 hours a week.

            “Would Sir care to splash his face with some cold water?”
            I shook my head but offered a man-smile, the type where you kiss your teeth but press your lips together firmly.  Again, I heard my name.  And the nausea returned.
            I had just finished giving a talk when I was hit with the first wave of nausea.  I looked down at my Oxfords, curious as to why they felt like cement blocks and my head started swimming.  My freshly pressed and bespoke Thomas Pink shirt, bought for the occasion suddenly felt like a whalebone corset.  My hands, white at the knuckles, were holding onto the wooden lectern as if to choke any potential life out of it.  I'm sure the audience are applauding but I can hear nothing.

            The ugliness of being floods into my consciousness and I can't tell myself apart from the paintings that adorn the walls.  Have my emotions been painted onto me?  Perhaps deft brush strokes with a careful but purposeful hand have crafted this moment and continue to craft each new one.  No.  Talking about tertiary economic activity and how to implement cheap immigrant labour was a choice, I realized.  I realized this for the first time in my life at that precise moment.

            At least the paintings, whose existence is defined by their being, do not need to comprehend or face a choice, never mind deny one.  Because that's what I had been doing.  Education was a choice.  Employment was a choice.  Snorting from the very lap of Columbia was a choice.  These things can present anyone with problems of the conscience, such as:

The problem that in order to gain the PhD supervision necessary for progress, you may have sabotaged the preparation of more than one person with the help of a keystroke logger, which records the key presses on a keyboard.  Very handy for discovering passwords.

Or, the problem that you may have hand-picked illegal immigrants for jobs that barely paid enough to cover the bus travel to and from work every day; and dangled the carrot of a full-time contract in front of them so much that they literally begged for the stick of no lunch break and 14 hour days.

            These problems play on the mind unless they are written off.
            You did not have any choice in the matter.
            Your hand was forced.
            You could have done differently, theoretically, but you live in the real world where bills need to be paid and reputation is key to having a good life.

            With my audience facing me expectantly, I made the first real choice of my life.  By that I mean for the first time in my life I was fully aware that my actions were always a choice and by denying I had a choice in every action I took meant denying I was a human being and more importantly, denying from myself that other people existed as separate social agents and not merely objects to be impressed or scorned.

            I did the only thing I could think of at the time.  Every action is a choice.  I raised my hands, palms facing the audience as a signal to stop applauding.  I was persistent so they knew I was not simply feigning modesty.  When silence fell over my audience I turned my hands around, so that my sweating palms faced me instead, balled my hands into fists and raised the middle finger on each hand.  With my hands still raised I took full advantage of my lapel microphone to address the crowd.
            “Fuck you.  Fuck you very much.  You are all parasites”

            And I walked off stage.

Serenity is not something you would associate with a man who had just insulted a large audience but that is the only emotion I felt.  Well, it was the first emotion I felt.  The serenity of facing up to the transcendent nature of being human was shortly replaced by the sharp impact of a colon gripping cold sweat which you most definitely would associate with a man who had just insulted a large audience.

            Every action is a choice.

I tipped that large Nigerian man very well.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Abandoning Facebook

After posting my last blog regarding social media, I felt a bit of a hypocrite.  I use Facebook more than most people I know, but usually only in short bursts on my phone.  Nevertheless, being constantly connected to Facebook meant I never missed anything and was able to comment on and reply to everything instantly.  Some would say this was a great thing and a step forward.  I think of myself as being very honest with myself and it wasn't until I wrote the last blog post on social media that I realised what the real cost of Facebook was for me. I'm sure if you use Twitter more than Facebook, this may also apply.

The first issue is the dissociation between online and offline society.  My offline society (what a cynic would call "real life") consists of classmates at university, of whom in a class of 72, I regularly speak to maybe 10 at the most in any depth; my closer friends and family which number around 10 and include the guys I grapple and spar with.  That's a close network of about 20 off the top of my head.  My Facebook society numbered around 250, most of which are acquaintances or classmates I rarely speak to, or people I knew previously but don't really talk to any more.  I'm a very sociable person and will speak to anyone about anything at any time, however real-time interaction with people I regularly only interact with online seems to have affected my attention and ability to converse in real life.  Performance wise, I converse in the same way as before but mentally, there are relatively large pauses and gaps where my typing would have been before.  I also have found myself wanting for words more often than I would have previously.  I can only assume this is where I would be putting a word into Google to check I'm using it in the right context.  The thing is, I don't ever need to do this - I only do it because the opportunity is there online.  So my online interactions change my offline interactions and conversations in a negative manner.  I have usually been known by friends as a pretty fast thinker, especially with humorous retorts but there have been more than a few occasions where I could not think of anything to say, funny or otherwise.

Another issue which comes to mind regarding Facebook is the intense interest in the minutiae of a passing acquaintances life.  Because information is passed so fast, unsubstantiated rumour can be widespread in minutes, and an enormous game of Chinese whispers can change the original meanings beyond comprehension. The problems of real-time text only interaction are not new but because the inter-relations resemble a huge Venn diagram on Facebook, it presents a whole new problem.  The main problem I have personally is the one of not interpreting intended meaning.  This is just an aside though.  My main issue is with the first point I raised.

Because of this, I have deleted my Facebook profile.  My studies have been affected by distractions (not just the internet) and so I have constantly asked myself what a scholar of the 19th century would do in this situation.  Facebook is not one of them.  Maybe blogging isn't either, but I'm not playing at being a scholar all the time...

Monday, 21 February 2011

Thoughts on social media

We constantly feel like we are missing out on something; there always seems to be something new that makes us feel that if we could be a part of it, we could maybe be happy, even if only for a short time. With the internet now as common as pavements, the speed at which modern life, and modern trends move can sometimes further the suffocating feeling that you are being left behind, last felt when you were 2 years old and your mum walked too far ahead and you felt the first pangs of dread in the pit of your stomach.

Enter social media.

You no doubt use social media in your life. You are reading this blog after all, and found out about it through your Twitter feed or Facebook timeline. Further than that, commenting or sharing videos on Youtube, pictures on Yfrog or Flickr, sharing links and contents on Tumblr or even voting for a D-list celebrity’s ballroom dancing efforts are all ways you may participate in or use social media.

This may feel like a godsend – finally you can create the headlines, or at least participate in new red top furore regarding the latest celebrity gossip. There is somewhere and some way you can keep in touch with the fast moving lives of everyone else. The trouble with this is that social media is self perpetuating and eventually becomes anti-social.

The ultimate aim of social media is to allow everyone to feel as if they have some semblance of control in their daily lives, which they may feel move far too fast. However, what is often found is that you are spoiled for choice and social media ends up choking the “life” out of your social life and rapes your inbox with thousands of updates and invites to the new social media phenomenon. All conversations and real life interactions either end or start with reference to or involvement in social media or social networking. The art of conversation and debate has been replaced with braying noises, acronyms and reference to internet specific memes that don’t ever work in real life and make you look a bit sad if you bring them

Of course it almost seems a bit nostalgic to explain the positive side of social media. Spreading news of protests in Egypt, Libya, Iran and even the UKUncut and associated student protests all over the UK through social media has been almost crucial to the whole protest effort in terms of individuals keeping up to date with where protests were taking place as well as news from the protests themselves. Social media has also been able to provide an alternate look at what we are being told officially on the news and gives people the opportunity to speak freely, where traditional media has failed them. However, with their being no editors on Twitter or Facebook, and sparse if any moderation on comments pages for newspapers and the BBC’s news stories, people are expected to self edit. Given a keyboard, the internet and anonymity, people can say horrific things and truly speak their minds. For example: