Friday 30 June 2017

Anger Management

I wanted 2017 be a good year compared to the debacle that was 2016 but so far it is proving to be as bad – if not worse.

I won’t elaborate yet but suffice it to say that I am struggling to contain my anger as well as the other negative emotions that are vying for position.

The good news is that I have a new framework for controlling them – but boy is it hard sometimes.  I want to focus in particular on anger, arguably the most negative and destructive of these emotions.

I have recently been driving to my hometown of Walsall quite a lot and this has been one of many sources of anger and frustration. The distance between Manchester and Walsall is approximately 75 miles and motorways cover all but about five of those miles. On a good day, in the past, the journey has taken me about an hour and fifteen minutes – which doesn’t seem that bad – does it?

The problem is that the main motorway that joins Manchester and Walsall is the M6, which is the worst motorway in the world – or at least in the north of England (if I’m honest).

When I am driving between the two places, the motorway tries to make it as difficult as possible by pushing every single one of the hot buttons that make me angry when I am behind the wheel of a car.

The ensuing road rage is a sight to behold, particularly if you are watching from a distance. If it were a movie, you would grow fat on all of the popcorn you ate as you watched me devolve into a ranting Neanderthal version of myself.

Let me take you through some of the hot buttons.

First, there are major roadworks for four junctions near to Manchester, resulting in the speed limit being reduced from 70 mph to 50 mph. There are 17 miles of this nonsense. During this tedious distance several things happen. There is no hard shoulder so if a car or lorry breaks down or a car has an accident then the whole motorway grinds to an absolute standstill. The motorway is usually busy anyway so we all end up sitting there immobile for what seems like hours on end. Equally frustrating, cars and lorries overtake each other at approximately 35 mph sometimes slowing everybody down completely.

The M6 on a good day!!!
I have crawled along every single mile of that damned motorway at 10 mph! I know every bloody square inch of that motorway in intimate detail!

Next, the M6 is full of lorries. You have never seen so many lorries on a motorway. Some of these lorries travel at 55mph, which isn’t a bad thing until another lorry, just behind, decides to overtake at 56 mph. When this happens, some car drivers lose their minds and swerve into the fast lane without really looking. Others decide to overtake the overtaking lorry at 57 mph thus blocking the motorway for those of us who are in a hurry and travelling at 70 mph. This behaviour causes instant congestion and, depending on how busy the motorway is, can lead to irritating lengthy tailbacks.

Next, the M6 brings out the dick in many drivers’ heads turning them from normal human beings into complete dickheads. For example, there I was in the fast lane overtaking other cars in the other two lanes when Mr Dickhead came up behind me. I was travelling at around 70 mph and this moron roared up at 90 mph and got so close that I thought his car was trying to mate with mine. In my rear view mirror I could see him bashing his steering wheel in frustration. He started flashing his lights.

So where the fuck was I supposed to go? Next to me in lane two were lorries driving nose to tail. I couldn’t have pulled in if I had tried, at least not without causing a major collision.

Did he think my car was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and could take off just to let him pass?

And these dickheads always seem to be driving a Mercedes or a BMW or an Audi. Is it a prerequisite of buying such a car that you have to mutate into a total dickhead when you get behind the wheel?

And then there’s the person who was in lane two approaching a junction. I was in the slow lane. Suddenly, he realised that he was going to miss his turn off and, without even looking went to shoot across my lane to escape the insanity of the motorway. Except I was there and this pillock was inches from side-swiping my car and causing a major accident. Thankfully, he realised at the last minute and swerved back, missing his junction and making my heart miss several beats.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg, dear reader. This post could have gone on for days and days but I think I had better rein myself in.

The journey generally takes at least an hour and a half with the record being two and a half hours, which included being stuck in the same place for 45 minutes while the emergency services cleared up an overturned caravan.

I am somehow managing the anger because I have my music (a useful tool for dissipating rage as described in my last post) and when the traffic comes to a standstill I tend to escape into a calmer place with mindfulness techniques.

Also, I can rant on this blog post – that’s a great anger management technique.

Monday 26 June 2017

Guide To Life - Music

I think my views on music can be summed up perfectly by the lyrics of a song by John Miles called, simply, “Music” from 1976:

Music was my first love
And it will be my last.
Music of the future
And music of the past.
To live without my music
Would be impossible to do.
In this world of troubles,
My music pulls me through.

For me, music can change my mood completely and I often find myself turning to it to change my mood for the better. I spend a good deal of my time listening to music during the day. When I am in the house on my own and not sitting in front of the television, music will be blaring out of my computer speakers, no matter what else I am doing.

In fact, as I type this, I am actually listening to the song.

Regular readers will know about my passion for music, and the particular genres I like. However, this post is not about my own taste and I won’t be boring you with references to progressive rock and heavy metal.

Instead I would like to talk about what music means to me.

I once wrote a post about which sense I could lose for a year if I were forced to do so. Here’s what I wrote about hearing:

“Like sight, hearing is a major sense that I simply do not think I could do without. I love listening to noises and conversation and, most importantly, my vast collection of music.

Losing my hearing for an entire year would be like not listening to a single song during that period or exchanging words with friends, strangers and, of course, Mrs PM.

That would be unacceptable.”

The key thing here is music because I think I would probably go insane.

I can deal with most situations and moods but when I struggle I turn to music to help me through. Over the years music has somehow pulled me through many difficult situation and helped to change my state of mind from a negative mood to a more positive and realistic one.
I don’t really know why this is.

If I am angry, I can take that anger on with a dose of heavy metal to combat the rage head on. It may sound weird but angry music actually calms me down.

If I am sad, I can listen to uplifting more sedate songs, which help raise my mood and make my mind think of the beauty and wonder in the world, changing my focus on sadness to one of joy.

If I am bored, for example on a lonely drive to another town, I can lose myself in any kind of music and kick start my imagination to allow myself to ponder life and totally relieve the boredom of battling traffic on a busy motorway.

Similarly the boredom of travelling on a long haul flight can be relieved by listening to my vast collection of music.

I have also said on this mad blog that music for me is like a time machine and some of the older songs in my collection can take me back to happy times when I was a lot younger– kind of like a beacon to the past.

While I may criticize the musical tastes of other people, I only do so to steer them away from those who would exploit the artists. As I have become older, I have tried to stop doing this because I have learned that music is totally personal and to attack their music is almost an attack on them. These days I try to say “that’s not my cup of tea” rather than “you have no musical taste whatsoever”.

Mrs PM is a prime example of this.

Our tastes in music are poles apart and I struggle to listen to her music – and of course the opposite is true. I am educating myself to be less critical and, instead, just trying to find common ground so that we can both listen to music that we both like.

It is difficult though because music truly is personal. A song that may take Mrs PM back to a great time in her life might do the opposite to me.

I also know that no two people have exactly the same tastes in music. I have a very close friend with whom I go to concerts but while we like the same bands generally, there are some bands and styles that we simply cannot agree on. For example, I love twenty minute progressive rock masterpieces and he can’t stand them. He likes modern pop punk songs, which generally bore me.

Nobody is the same when it comes to musical taste but, I think, most people have the same passion for music.

As far as music is concerned we should all appreciate music and not criticize each other’s tastes. I have been very guilty of this in recent years and I am trying to change my attitude and open myself up to understand why somebody would rather listen to rap than rock.

It’s hard but I am slowly beginning to understand.

I will conclude by once again pointing out that there is a whole world of music out there on the internet and you shouldn’t be spoon fed your music by radio stations with a hidden agenda.

I won’t rant about it – it’s just an observation.

Music is precious and shouldn’t be exploited.

To finish off, here is the song I was listening to while writing this post. It’s a nice song.

Sunday 25 June 2017

Guide To Life - Religion

I’m a little puzzled by religion, if I am brutally honest.

I was brought up a Catholic. I was baptised in a Catholic church at a time when I had no say in the matter. In fact I may have screamed as the Holy Water hit my forehead, which some people might have considered a bad thing – after all, don’t vampires scream when you throw Holy Water at them?

I had to endure confession, when I was a child and found myself struggling not to laugh as I lied to the priest about my sins simply because I couldn’t think of what I had done that was wrong. My penance was to say the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” multiple times – there’s a lot of trust in this punishment because you can simply just sit there and think about what you are having for dinner tonight rather than reciting prayers.

First communion was strange too because I was a child and was offered bread dipped in wine – although initially I don’t think wine was involved because we were all underage.

I then acquired a new name as I was confirmed. I chose John because it was common – not because I admired John the Baptist as I told the priest when asked (another lie).

None of this made me a better person. Worse, there was no proof that any of the teachings I was indoctrinated with were actually true or based on fact. I started to realise that the teachings of the Bible were in fact rather contradictory, which is no surprise when you think about it.

The word of God was written by man and of course, as we all know, man has the uncanny ability to exaggerate to prove a point – I do it on this blog all the time. If you think about it, the Bible has been translated numerous times and even reinterpreted and modernised so some of the stories, as fascinating as they are, are bound to be enhanced for dramatic affect.

My scientific mind has been questioning the logic of what I was taught ever since I was a teenager and I have a relatively clear picture in my mind.

Some of the stories in the Bible basically teach us to be good to each other and not be arses. Whether you believe all of the amazing things that Jesus did is up to you. It’s a stretch to believe that he could turn water into wine, cure leprosy and raise a man from the dead but the words he supposedly spoke and his deeds are worthy of consideration.

I am therefore not anti-religion, despite my mockery of it.

On the contrary, if it makes people happy then I’m all for it. If you are a person who can made happier by spending an hour in church every Sunday praying to God and as a result feel a deep sense of fulfilment and happiness then that’s terrific.

The same goes for other religions too. For example, I have known Muslims who are lovely people and pop off to pray at regular intervals during the day and worship at their mosque. I know Sikhs and Hindus who are content with their religion and happier because of it.

If your religion can make you happy then that’s a beautiful thing.

What I don’t like, though, is when religion is used as an excuse to cause harm. Over the years, I have seen this happen many times. People who look down on me because I am a Catholic, for example. People who actually prefer to mock me for confessing my sins to an “old man in a frock” (their words not mine) are not helping anybody – especially themselves.

Worse, there are those who actually harm people in the name of religion because their views are different. This has happened throughout history and is happening right now.

Aren’t we all past that?

Most if not all religions are peaceful and promote moral ideologies. Yet there are people who interpret the teachings of their religion in a way that suits their twisted minds, even in some cases, harming people with supposedly the same religion, just a slightly different flavour.

And I am not singling out Islam here, by the way – Christianity has a bloody history of doing exactly the same.

The bottom line is that religion, if you choose to believe, should make you a better person, eager to promote happiness and a willingness to help others. It should make you happy in your own belief and if you can turn to it in a moment of despair for comfort and security then that is fantastic.

When religion promotes peace, happiness and prosperity then it is a good thing.

If it is used to oppress and harm people then it is a bad thing and people who use religion to exploit and harm others are using religion nefariously.

By the way, I do not count Scientology as a religion and that is a prime example of how a so-called religion has been used to control and exploit people. It is the opposite of what a religion should be.

I’ll just finish by telling you all that I haven’t been a practising Catholic for almost forty years. I wonder what I would say to a priest in a confessional booth? And how long would I be in there?

I’ll leave you with a joke by the late great Dave Allen. Like me, he was a Catholic and courted controversy with his jokes about religion. Here is one of them:

If you can’t laugh at religion then there is something wrong. I like to think that God has a sense of humour.

Sunday 18 June 2017

Guide To Life - Politics

I promised myself I wouldn’t talk about politics on this blog again. I am going to break that promise. However, unlike before, I am not going to rant about it. I kind of want people to understand why I say things I say and why I am a walking paradox, i.e. a man who despises politics and politicians yet feels the need to rant about it at almost every opportunity.

Actually, the truth is that I wanted to start a series of posts with the working title “Guide to Life” – my guide to life really – and I want to get politics out of the way first.

One of the things I have learned in 2017 is to adopt a more positive outlook on life and, fingers crossed, so far it has worked. Sadly, 2017 is proving to be as bad as 2016 (both personally and politically) and I may elaborate on that in my end of year round up.

So let’s talk about politics.

Basically I am what is known in Britain as a “lefty”. Some people have called me a “loony lefty” but the truth is I’m not one of those. Americans would probably call me a bleeding heart liberal.

I thought I would just put this up front because it explains why I am not keen on the British Conservative Party or the American Republican Party – or indeed any other right wing party.

What I have learned this year more than any, is that I really need to listen to those who have opposing views. And I have started to do that. I have realised that by chatting to Conservative voters, I can actually see where they are coming from. Of course, this is not always the case because I have been accused within the last month of being a “total lunatic” – but that is a one off. What I have found is that if you meet somebody with opposing views who is as reasonable as I am trying to be, then you can have a decent chat without animosity about your political differences and, most importantly, learn from them. Also, you can hope that the same occurs in the opposite direction and that they learn from you too.

The guy who told me that I was a “total lunatic” disagreed with my philosophy of wanting to help other people. I explained to him that Conservatives, also universally known as the “Nasty Party” in the UK (not by me by the way), adopt measures that expand the gap between rich and poor and austerity measures have a devastating effect on those who need it most – the poor. Rich people are generally less affected. I would be quite happy to pay more tax to assist.

He admitted that he was “selfish” and didn’t care about the less needy in our society. I can’t change his personality and I didn’t try – I just disagreed with him. At the end, we shook hands and he said “Great discussion but I think you’re a total lunatic.”

I wanted to say “I’m just a nice guy!” but I stopped myself.

We recently had an election in the UK and it was a corker. Our Prime Minister, Conservative Party leader Theresa May, wanted to steamroller her Brexit policies through parliament without the opposition having a say. The problem is that her majority was not very big and she feared that she faced problems. If the right wing press are to be believed, the opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is an incompetent and unpopular lunatic. Theresa May decided to have a snap election (having promised that she wouldn’t do that) because her approval rating was sky high compared to Jeremy Corbyn’s.

Theresa May pretending to be a normal person

Corbyn: "Give us a kiss, Theresa"
In her mind, she would not only win, her victory would be a landslide and she would get absolutely everything she wanted through parliament and Brexit, as well as other right wing policies, would fly through with a massive majority.

Her arrogance was breath-taking.

However, she didn’t reckon on Jeremy Corbyn being a far more charismatic and principled leader. She also didn’t realise that the Conservative manifesto would piss off just about everybody but the most die-hard lovers of the party. Worse, she led with the soundbite “strong and stable” and proved to be the complete opposite, refusing to debate on live TV and only talking to the party faithful instead of the average man in the street.

She didn’t lose the election. She won.

The problem is that her majority has been slashed and we have a “hung parliament” which means that no party has overall control.

She is in a worse position than she was before and any Brexit or other policies stand a great chance of being outvoted by the opposition parties. In American terms, she is a “lame duck” Prime Minister.

I love this, not just because I oppose Brexit vehemently. I love it because the gutter press have had a kick in the teeth for their attacks on Corbyn and he has proven to be far more popular than her as a leader.

What this means for Brexit, I don’t know – but it is better than before. It is a spectacular own goal.

I have stopped ranting about Donald Trump too. In fact, on the contrary, I am now fascinated by what’s going on over in the United States. While internal US politics usually has no interest, Trump’s term is proving to be mesmerising, not least because of his tweets, his arrogance, his self-contradiction, his outrageously unpopular policies and his idiocy (and while he may be intelligent in terms of business, his pedigree as a politician is proving to be the complete opposite).

"How am I getting away this this? I have no idea!"
I remember Nixon resigning but I was too young to fully understand why. With Trump, I feel like I am watching a Hollywood movie and I am already overstuffed on popcorn, waiting for the next instalment.

Basically, to conclude, I think we should all listen to each other’s views on politics and learn to understand them. I welcome anybody to comment and either agree that indeed I am a lunatic – as long as you tell me why. If you are British and a Brexit supported or are American and love Donald Trump then please also feel free to engage.

I won’t bite.

And, for now, I will stop referring to Donald Trump as an Oompa Loompa.