Saturday, 1 December 2018

The Parable of the Cold Island






The Parable of the Cold Island


This is probably the most important parable that I will ever write. It is also the one I have worked on for the longest period of time. The central metaphor will perhaps give the appearance of being trite, schmaltzy or twee. That was not my intention. I chose this metaphor as I still feel it is the most appropriate for the subject. It is not intended to be unnecessarily didactic in tone, but the nature of parables is to send a spiritual message.

Anyone who tells parables has to decide whether they will explain them or not. In this case I'm trusting in your intelligence and imagination.

'Let those who have ears to hear, let them hear...'





There was once a good king, a king like the sun, who ruled over a cold island with three peculiar children. It was winter and they say that winter is the end of the story of the seasons. But it depends on when you start the story.

Some people hated the royal family, but that was because they tended to get a bad press. Most of the people thought the king was harsh. He always seemed to be on some long journey and his absence caused many of the people to doubt that he even existed. After all, he was never on TV or the internet.

From a distance, he often seemed negligent or downright cruel, if it is possible to be both at once. He did not do terrible things, but he allowed them and would not explain why.

Two of the royal children were as disobedient as vultures. But the third child was as faithful as a robin, refusing to fly away when the winter sun grew austere. Her kindness was all the more remarkable because she was unable to walk. She was as loyal as frost clinging to a car window (for which the people also cursed the king in the mornings).

There hadn’t been a real Christmas on that island for over a hundred years. Although there had been some imitations of it. No-one even knew what Christmas was like anymore. Those who had heard of it either thought it brutal and regressive (following a highly popular Netflix series about what Christmas may be like and a series of stereotypes which were expressed in the arts and media about the character of those who might like Christmas) ... Or else they thought it was yet another money-making scheme, heavy on the merchandise and manipulation.

But the faithful robin-child, after reading of true Christmas, asked her father if they could celebrate too… as the people in far-off places were said to do. She had only read stories of Christmas and it was because she had lost a friend in one of the past winter months that she found her courage.

She entered the throne room in her wheelchair and the king looked sadly at his cold iron sceptre, like a man haunted by ghosts which only he knew about.

"We need Christmas father. Things are getting worse on the island," said the robin-child.

"The island is sick," replied the king.

"Then there is hope of healing. You have healing in your power."

"What do you think Christmas should be like anyway?" the king asked, "Like water? Like the sea's tide turning? Like rain after a drought? Like a river flowing?"

"I don't know."

"Or like the earth? Like an earthquake and a shaking, or a kind of sifting of the good and bad?"

"No not that, Christmas should be for everyone and that sounds destructive."

"Or like the air? Like a wind blowing across the land? Like a change in the atmosphere?"

"I don't know."

"Or like fire? Like tongues of flame? Like a wildfire?"

"I simply think it should be like a new, better season. Like Christmas in the old stories."


But the king went on to tell his daughter yet again that if his children and people continued to misbehave, they would never see Christmas. It was within his power to make the winter months warmer and lighter since kings and queens still hold great power. But it was catch 22 – without the comfort of Christmas, people found it hard to behave, but if they did not behave, the king would not give them Christmas. The king's conditions felt very patronising and simplistic.

It had become increasingly dark and cold in those winter months in so many ways. And the dark and cold had soaked into the hearts of the people, so that even the streets saw puddles of blood. The blood had a voice, but by this time only the king could seem to hear it. Nobody cared about all kinds of roses crushed underfoot. Gentleness had emigrated. It was as if the island was under a curse.

At the start of December, the king sat on his throne and wondered whether he should allow his island child her peculiar request. He was undecided, since two of his children were so naughty (they were always fighting and rarely did what he asked). When he told them to love, they hated. When he told them to forgive, they held grudges. When he told them to not be too proud and condescending towards the people, they simply looked down their noses at the less privileged. It had got so bad that the people were cursing the royal family because of the actions of the princes. “The royal family are judgmental bigots!” the people would sing. Or else, “The king is in the altogether, he’s altogether not there!” And blood on the streets didn’t help. The people would take strange, dangerous potions and dance wildly into the night or else treat each other as badly as the princes treated them.

The king wondered whether he should simply give a present to his daughter and ignore the others. But then he considered that Christmas should be for everyone and an exclusive Christmas had never happened before. But why Christmas on his island alone? There was the Commonwealth, and the people there could be said to be worthier? One last worldwide Christmas for everyone (even though that had never happened before). What had happened before can happen again, for good or for evil. He had told all his children to behave and they had largely ignored him. What should a good father do? He, did, after all, have his enemies and ghosts. And the land had enough problems already, ready to break and divide for the sake of a freedom which was only hoped in.

One of the naughty children didn’t believe Christmas was healthy, he thought it probably meant, a pair of socks as a present, a lot of disappointment and probably a lot of grief. He didn't like anything about Christmas. The other thought it was unlikely to happen again before the end of the world. He simply thought there would never be a genuine Christmas again. But the faithful robin child would read old stories and she believed that even if they were only to have one last Christmas it would be a good thing for everyone on the cold island. It would help them to prepare for the coldest and darkest of days. She too loved the people of the island.

But the winter winds pummelled them all and the thunder made it seem as if the sky may fall at any moment. And the naughty children started to doubt that their father really was good – not because they wanted Christmas, but because he seemed to allow so many bad things and then said it was some kind of test. And never explained why. The tests were always the same anyway, they were either endurance tests or self-control tests, but the king, because of his ghosts, considered that an unfair criticism. Kings can do that and you can't tell them that they are wrong.

The king had set out conditions for there to be a Christmas. He had said that if his children talked to him, keeping their conversations secret, and if they were well-behaved and if they trusted in him, he would give them Christmas once again and the Christmas would be both a relief and a healing for them all. Hearts would turn warm and there would be more light, like the light of a baby in a manger. But the trouble was that he had three children and only one of them was behaving. The majority were not. In a sense, it was because of the naughty children that the whole island did not get Christmas, especially the fault of the naughtiest leading prince who had been given more than the others and who was relatively healthy.

So, the king faced a quandary – he had promised that he would order Christmas throughout the land if all his children behaved. But how could they behave when all was cold and austere and there was no Christmas? The robin princess had talked to him on countless occasions about this, about how Christmas would be good for both him and the people, about how it would make things better, about how a good father should not deny the request of an obedient daughter simply because others were not so obedient. About how Christmas itself would swing the hearts and souls of people onto his side. About how, while he delayed, the people and the children suffered together. About how he had also promised to grant any request made persistently. About what kind of good father would deny Christmas to his children anyway? About how he wanted free will love from the people and he would get that if he gifted Christmas.

But the king simply looked at his cold iron sceptre, shrugged and said that unless his people and his children talked to him, behaved, and trusted in him, he couldn’t send Christmas.

“But you also once said nothing is impossible for you,” said the robin princess.

“These are the conditions,” said the father with a stern face that did not suit him.

“But you once said that even a bad judge would rule in favour of a petitioner if they persisted, and I have pestered you about this for years.”

“These are the conditions,” said the king, his face like flint (which did not suit one whose glory was supposed to be greater than the sun).

“But how can the conditions ever be met on this island where the streets drink blood without conditions changing so that the conditions are more likely to be met?”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“Why must you win every argument?" replied the Princess, "It isn’t endearing. People are suffering. What kind of good father would deny Christmas to their children? You told us that you love us.”


So here is the quandary, the mystery and here is the parable – that the good and kind king had seen how cold and dark his land had grown and truly understood the suffering of his people (having lived as one of them, in another land, a long time ago). Yet he denied them Christmas, saying it was the fault of his enemies, or of his children, or of his ghosts. Saying that conditions needed to be met, saying that his timing was perfect. And often saying nothing at all.

And still, the faithful robin princess and the people waited to see if a good King and Father would really delay Christmas on that cold, dark island for reasons known only to himself and his ghosts. And the robin princess, her heart broken because of the blood on the streets, knew that the only thing left to do was to keep on asking.


Thursday, 8 November 2018

Trailer


This is the next piece that will be on my blog and website on December 1st 2018. 




Wednesday, 31 October 2018

The River

The River






I still enjoy writing these Halloween short stories every year. What I have always tried to do is to add a little depth to the tales. The significance of the names of the two protagonists shouldn't be lost on readers. Perhaps the deepest criticism I could get for this particular story is, 'Okay, but where are the monsters?'  Rivers are funny things. Most of them are lively and life-affirming. But the old stories also speak of a final river in this lifetime which must be crossed. A river which makes the human heart tremble...

“The river is everywhere.” 
Hermann Hesse

It had been a harsh summer. A summer to survive. Everyone else's social media status had seemed happy, accomplished and carefree. But the brothers had lost all their grandparents that year. Life, like a wasp, had stung them and they were sore. There was no outlet for their grief. Even the funerals had been tedious, expensive duties and not offered any kind of healing. So it was their father’s idea. Their mother was grieving too deeply anyway. They were to go on an Autumn camping weekend.

Joel, the older brother was 19. He was wise beyond his years and everyone called him Joe. The younger brother, Danny was 16 and full of questions. His teachers would also say he was full of insolence and rebellion. But that is something that teachers often say about those who have too many questions.

The campsite was about three miles from the coast and there was a wide river nearby which headed towards the estuary. None of the brothers knew the name of the river. A river which seemed to call to them.

The site had a few facilities, a toilet block, water taps and electric ports for caravans. Few people wanted to camp so late in the year and so they were alone apart from a few other brave souls in warm campervans. But they were close enough to a town to be within easy walking distance and it was not so cold during the day if the sun was out. Danny was less enthusiastic about the whole holiday, but Joe seemed excited and took control of setting up the tent.

“Are you going to help?” asked Joe.
“What do you want me to do?” replied Danny.
“You can thread the poles.”

Danny was sullen. To be honest, he wanted to go and explore. The river's voice seemed to beckon. The hills surrounding them were like new, honest friends.

They had selected a place on the campsite sheltered by some crab apple and horse chestnut trees, their leaves and apples fallen and beginning to rot. It was, in all fairness, the best and safest spot when it came to protecting them from the wind.

It didn’t take long to get everything in place. Soon the ground mats were down and the sleeping bags were inside along with all of their supplies, including their collapsible fishing rods.
The tent itself was reasonably large, big enough for four people at a push – it was a kind of standard mid-range family tent. It was orange.

They went to the river and decided that they would fish there the following day. The river itself was fast moving and wide. It looked healthy – full of liveliness rather than life. There were numerous places to fish from along their side of the bank. For that moment it looked as if the week-long holiday would go well. They would phone their parents and they would be able to have some time with each other engaged in a task which they both enjoyed. It would all be fine. Nothing could go wrong. The future was certain, like a written plan, like a movie already seen. Rest and healing.

When dusk arrived Joe and Danny decided that there was very little to do. So Danny took a bottle of vodka from his backpack and the brothers drank a little until they were pleasantly tipsy.
“I have an idea,” announced Joe.
“What?” asked Danny.
“What about a story?”
“Stories?” sighed Danny.
“U-hu, ghost story or something.”
“Are you mad?”
“No, there isn’t much to do here and stories are a great way of getting to sleep.”
“You’re mad. Who do you think you are, Scheherazade? This isn’t 1001 nights.”
“No, this is one week. Look, it’s just an idea.”
“It’s a crap idea and it’s boring Joe.” Danny sniffed and picked up his smartphone to look at the stories there.

They lay in silence for about half an hour until Danny said:
“Look, I’ll do a deal with you. We can do the story thing if you buy me a new fishing rod.”
“That’s a bad deal Danny. No.”
“Then forget the story.”
“It’s just an idea Danny, some people think that stories are interesting.”
“No, your stories are crap Joe and beyond that I think you want to convert me or something.”

The sad fact of this was that it was a little true. Joe had a fascination for all things to do with the end of the world. This fascination had led him to research everything he could find out about the way in which the end of the world may happen. It was a kind of obsession. It had also made Joe increasingly religious (or ‘spiritual’ as he liked to put it). It was a constant block between Joe and Danny. It caused tension and it caused Danny to always think that Joe was trying to evangelise him.

“I promise I won’t try to do that,” said Joe.
“You will, and I just want to fish. I don’t want any of your religious ramblings.”
Joe sighed deeply and then seemed to come to a decision.
“Okay, I tell you what, I’ll buy you a new fishing rod for Christmas.”
“Is that a bribe?” asked Danny.
“I don’t know,” replied Joe.
“Okay. Go ahead then.”
There was silence then in the heavens (and the tent) for thirty minutes. Then, unannounced, when Danny had thought his brother asleep, Joe began…

“I swear to you I’m not trying to convert you Danny. I swear to you that we are all going to be annihilated by nukes.”

“Can I interrupt?”

“Within reason. I’m telling you that if there is a nuclear strike against us right now that we will die, even here. You know why? Because things have moved on since our parents' day in the 80’s. Not only has technology changed everything but nukes have also changed. No-one really worries about it these days but the fact of the matter is that a third world war will not see us surviving at this rate. And do you know why?”
“Why?”
“Because no-one has a sane plan.”

“About this story Joe. I’m just wondering when it is going to start? Are you just going to be preaching to me?”
“I’m not preaching, I’m just telling you what I know.”
“Then where is the story?”

“Alright, alright – Once there was a man who wanted to survive the third world war.”
“What was his name?”
“Shut up. His name was ‘Huckleberry Jordan’.”
“Seriously? What kind of name is that? Are you Mark Twain?”
“Shut up. Huckleberry had a plan to survive a nuclear attack. Before you interrupt again I can tell you that Huckleberry lived in the UK. With a name like Huckleberry where else are you going to live?..”
“America?”
“Huckleberry wanted to survive a nuclear blast and there was only one way to do this. He would either have to bug-in, to dig-in or he would have to bug-out.”
“I don’t think you are using the right prepper terms there.”
“Huckleberry had this idea. He lived alone in a city. Err… say he lived in London. And he knew that with an escalation of violence in the Middle East that the situation was quite precarious. The eschatology of different cultures was clashing…”
“Hold on, hold on, what the hell is eschatology?…”
“What do you think it means?”
“I don’t know!”
“Eschatology is the study of the end of the world. Ironic really because for Huckleberry the end of his world was about to occur. He lived in London and he could see that the political situation in the world was going down the drain. Everything was hitting the fan.”
“Why don’t you swear?”
“Huckleberry saw only desolation coming to London and he wanted to survive. There was only one way the third world war would start and that was with one huge nuke in his back garden. Now, thankfully, Huckleberry had stored up a few supplies from his work as a civil servant. The civil servants are good at survival, they always survive no matter which party is in power. They know what is what. So he had saved a bit of cash and when he saw that the world was on the brink of war he knew that there was only one place he would be safe.”

Joe paused, the vodka had worn off a little and he took a swig from the bottle and picked up an apple. Then he continued…

“Do you know where that place is in the entire world Danny?”
“Ireland? Alaska? One of the poles?”
“No. Huckleberry knew his eschatology too…”
“He would…”
“…He was going to Jordan.”
“Err… I don’t think Jordan is going to be safe in a third world war. It is right next to Israel which would be blasted off the map one way or the other.”
“You can’t just talk about blasting Israel of the map...”
“Uh? Take your religion and stick it up your…”
“Anyway, Huckleberry decided that he would get a plane to Jordan.”
“Hold on, hold on, why again did Huckleberry go to Jordan?”
“Because the only place that is going to be safe at the end of the world is Jordan.”
“This is ridiculous and I swear you are trying to convert me. Jordan would be blasted into bits along with England. Huckleberry is a fool.”
“Huckleberry was no fool. As a civil servant he knew his stuff. He knew that according to scripture…”
“…there you go, just there!”
“Shut up.”

Joe relaxed and his voice softened. “According to scripture there is only one place that is going to survive the end-time war. And that is Jordan. Because in one of the books of the Old Testament and I may have forgotten which, but I can tell you that Huckleberry didn’t. In the book of the Old Testament prophet and according to the scripture according to the book of Hal Lindsey (which Huckleberry had read) the countries of Edom and Moab would survive the assault of the antichrist and…”

“Hold on, now you really are getting interesting. What’s all this about the antichrist?”

“According to the book of Lindsey, Huckleberry was aware that Moab and Edom corresponded exactly to the modern day country of Jordan. As a result our dear civil servant friend Huckleberry decided that he would ‘bug-out’ in Jordan. That’s kind of how rudimentary faith works. He had thought of going to Petra in Jordan where all the traditional eschatology says that people will survive. Except that Huckleberry was a clever man. He realized that a lot of people would be fleeing to Petra. The whole damned lot of them. Anyone with any sense anyway. And Petra these days is just a ruin with a few caves and anyone who is anyone knows that the only way to survive in those conditions is to have a decent plan and that most of the people fleeing there would have no plan. Worse, when you bug-out you don’t want to be around other people all the time. In a survival situation other people are a drain on your resources. That’s what Huckleberry thought anyway, he considered that there was only one way in which he would survive. And that was to survive alone. But he had made plans and he landed in a plane in Jordan. At the Jordan airport…”

“Which is called?”

“…at the main Jordan airport he relaxed a little. But instead of heading straight to Petra he decided that he would run to the mountains. There are mountains in Jordan and Huckleberry knew that there were places he could go to to survive. He had his backpack of resources and more money than you could shake a fishing rod at. He knew that the best place to bug-out would be in one of the obscure tourist attractions in the Jordan mountains. There is supposed to be a tourist site on top of one of the mountains where Moses was supposed to have surveyed the whole promised land. Huckleberry had seen pictures of it with a big arty cross there. And he had made his plans because there was even a shop there. A shop meant resources. Because of the escalation in tension the whole place had shut down to tourism. Half of those in the know had run to Petra. The other half couldn’t care whether they lived or died because they were just sheeple. And the rest were in some weird fight against the antichrist who everyone probably thought was the messiah anyway..."

There was a distant thunderclap at that moment and Joe was ridiculously pleased by the timing.

"...A story for another night. Anyway, Huckleberry set off across the barren wasteland of the Jordan desert. He was a man who was used to survival because he lived in London. It took him a while, a day or two and a couple of insane taxi journeys which involved bribery, but he finally got to the outpost in the Jordan mountains where there was a small, closed shop. The hot piercing sun shone down on Huckleberry and he wondered what to do next. There was only one thing to do. Break into the small tourist centre – up there in the mountains there is a little chapel too. But prayer was far from the mind of Huckleberry – he was only concerned with survival and he was thirsty and hungry and tired. So he broke into the shop and gulped down the cans of coke which were still in a fridge there. Then he found food, hundreds of bags of crisps and salted peanuts for the tourists. He was sure there was other food there but for now he needed sleep. So he holed himself into the chapel and slept on one of the pews. The next morning Huckleberry decided that he would try to figure out what was happening in the world. His smartphone wouldn’t work and he was a little worried about data roaming charges just in case he had got it all wrong and there had been no nuclear strikes. But he found a radio in the small shop around the back. First he started to store water because there was a tap there and he filled some buckets full of water. Then he tried the radio and found a BBC world service broadcast. The BBC get everywhere...

“This is not a drill. Everyone who is still alive, stay indoors. There have been nuclear strikes in all countries. If you are the praying kind then pray. The whole world is in chaos. This is not a drill. If anyone can help us, help us. There is nothing left of the British Isles. Anybody please...”

And the other broadcasts were silenced. Although there was some music for some reason on some of the channels. So Huckleberry went outside to look from the mountain and sure enough he could see mushroom clouds in the distance. And it seemed that the only place he was safe was in Jordan. And that was when the nuke landed on Petra. And the sun turned to sackcloth.

Petra was too close to his base. He saw the mushroom cloud coming. The strangest thing was that the nuclear blast looked different to all those he had seen on TV and in pictures. It looked more like... like an apple core than a mushroom. ‘They must have used a different kind of nuke’ thought Huckleberry pointlessly. He was too close and he dived to the floor. His eardrums shattered. The boom was so loud and burst his eardrums. He knew that he had a matter of minutes to shelter and he could think of nothing else to do but to run to the chapel. So he fled there and hid behind one of the pews praying for the first time in his life. But the blast from the nuke was that of a new nuke, one which the antichrist had sent. And before he could do any more, the mountainside received the fire from the blast. It was too close and neither Petra not the rest of Jordan was safe. In fact the antichrist knew the scriptures too so he had sent a nuke straight to Petra. And all Huckleberry could do was stay in the foetal position while the chapel was blown to bits and the heat of the fire entered like the Lord himself.”

Joe seemed quite pleased with himself and finished his story, placing his apple core down.

“In fact, that was the only mercy. That it ended so quickly for poor, misguided Huckleberry. It is the fate of all civil servants. The end of the world, the sun to sackcloth and the moon to blood.”

Danny was silent for a good while and then said, "It wasn't really a ghost story was it?"


The next morning there was a storm. The summer storms had been intense that year and Danny and Joe sheltered in the tent, listening to the heavy rain which felt like it could flatten them at any moment.

Joe’s smartphone rang. Danny momentarily wondered why he had chosen a song with a trumpet in the intro. 

“Hello – is that Joe? It’s Uncle Mark.”
“Oh, hi…” Joe wondered why his uncle was phoning.
“Joe, I have some bad news.”
Joe’s heart fell and Danny saw his face go white.
“There was a fire at your house Joe. Your mum and dad were both in it. I’m so sorry.”
“What, our parents are dead?”
Danny looked at Joe, listening, shaken.
“They’re both dead Joe, it was some kind of accident. It was last night. We need you and Danny to be strong right now…”
Joe burst into tears and his heart broke fully.

And the moon turned to blood. The sun to darkness.

Danny grabbed the phone, crying too.
“What happened!?” he shouted.
“It was a fire Danny, we don’t know how it started. I’m so sorry. Danny, listen to me…”
But Danny had thrown the smartphone down and unzipped the tent. He was running barefoot towards the river in the storm. 

Danny became soaked in the cold rain and the rain pelted onto his forehead like a knocking. As if someone was knocking on the tent which was his own body. And he ran through the pouring rain under the sound of the thunder and reached the riverside. The river was gushing and swelling and alive. The river was so alive and the water was so fast.

And suddenly Danny looked back and there was his brother racing towards him.
Danny, without taking off any of his clothes, not even his trainers, jumped into the river.
Joe called through the storm to his brother:
‘Daniel!! Stop!!!’

But before he knew it Danny was in the river. Danny felt the water all around him, cold and dragging him along. Before long Danny had been swept out and down the river and still he swam against the current and towards the other side. Joe could do little but watch as Danny reached half way. And that was when Joe noticed that he was struggling and then not struggling anymore. The waters were too fast, the river was too deep, he was never going to make it across. Had he even intended to? And with this realisation, Joe jumped in to rescue his brother who was struggling for breath and still being swept along. Joe swam towards his brother who was just a head now, facing upwards, all his efforts taken in breathing, but not screaming, not seeming afraid even. For a moment Danny went totally underwater and Joe renewed his efforts to reach him. But he watched in horror as Danny was dragged under once again, his face looking up into the sky one last time. Then, strangely he smiled – the smile was so obvious but then he was gone, like a star falling from the sky.

And the emotions which filled Joe were pushed aside out of a wanting for him to save his brother who was now underwater. And he swam to the spot where Danny had gone underwater but felt the same pull, the same current dragging him under too. And suddenly he could neither save his brother or himself and the river seemed to tug him from beneath as it had tugged his brother, claiming him, wanting them both, embracing them. And Joe too felt the fight leave him and felt himself sinking. With one final act he took a last breath and looked up to the storm clouds above them. And the thing that he saw there filled him with wonder. There in the sky, hovering above the river was an angel. A huge, bright, beautiful angel which smiled down on him. The only thing he could do was smile back. And then he went under too. And Huckleberry’s world ended with that of the brothers.

And they crossed the river together.





Saturday, 27 October 2018

Monday, 15 October 2018

What I've been working on...

Okay, I've managed to create teaser trailers (there will be no full trailers) for the stories I've been working on this year. The first is the annual Halloween story which is called 'The River'. It will be out on October 31st on this blog. There will be explosions.



The other piece is a parable, and probably the most important parable I have ever felt compelled to write. It is called 'The Parable of the Cold Island' and will be on the blog on December 1st.


Enjoy.


Saturday, 29 September 2018

New short stories

I will be posting another Halloween short story this year on this blog on October 31st as usual.

This year I am also working on another piece which should be on the blog around December 1st.

Here is the picture for the Halloween story... sorry, no trailer this year due to lack of time...




Wednesday, 18 July 2018

A revival in drug use: 2018, UK




This is not the kind of revival I wanted to report. A little while ago I saw two more syringes on my work break on the streets of Birmingham. What had previously been a fairly rare experience – seeing a syringe left on the ground - has now turned into a regular sight. I was not looking for them. It feels as if drug-use is everywhere now.

I saw a man on spice standing in the street in the middle of the sunny day as children passed by. He looked like a stereotypical zombie from a George A. Romero film. It was the first time I had seen it away from the news. People walked by, even the police, and no-one seemed to bat an eyelid. That was, perhaps the worst part of it all – that we are used to it now. It would be heart-breaking if we were not so desensitised to it.

I’m not talking about cannabis use – the smell of which fills most towns and villages. I’m persuaded that Britain, as the main exporter of medical cannabis should also make it available for those suffering and for palliative care. I’m almost persuaded that cannabis should be made legal, but not quite and that is not my fight – I would not support or oppose a move like that, but I know that I can never smoke again because it would simply give me flashbacks.

I once went back to my high school to give a talk to the teenagers about the dangers of drug use. It was the one and only time I have done this. The main question I was asked was ‘Why did you take drugs?’ (even if I had limited myself to ecstasy, LSD, cannabis and amphetamines). For me the reasons were mixed – I wanted to feel better when I felt bad and I wanted to feel even better when I felt fine. So there was hedonism, there was a bit of peer pressure, escapism – and maybe mixed in with all that there was a search for some kind of spiritual meaning which I thought could be found through the use of LSD. But not much of that – mostly I wanted to feel great – to have instant mountain-top experiences, to experience life to the full. My experiment spectacularly failed, but that's another story.

And back in 1992 it all seemed a lot simpler. All of the drugs were weaker. But over the years they were rebranded and strengthened. The pictures on the acid tabs always had an anodyne strawberry or a picture of Bart Simpson – and they were designed to make you buy. These days the drugs trade is even more sophisticated and the 90's rave scene now sounds... twee.

So why did I stop taking drugs? A drug-induced psychosis may have helped, but so did a radical change in my lifestyle. I had an epiphany – to put it simply I became a Christian. Got religion – someone told me that God loved me and I believed them. Whenever I spoke about this after that time I would always say that the best way to stop taking drugs was to have a radical change in circumstances. Have a baby, get married, move somewhere new, find God. I never devoted myself to that anti-drugs task – because I don’t want it to define everything I ever do  – I wrote a few letters to papers, visited my old school and made sure that whenever anyone offered me drugs I didn’t take them. Maybe I was simply salving my conscience. But when you see the same things happening again to others, it is hard to keep shtum. 

Why be silent when you spot syringes all around and you realise that there really is blood on all our streets from the heavy drug use – and its link with knife and gun crime? It’s hard to take your five fruit and veg and lower your caffeine intake when all you want to do is inject yourself with fentanyl. And why do people take drugs anyway? As I say – there are lots of reasons – hedonism, a search for something better, an escape, to relieve suffering, to enhance pleasure, to attain some kind of meaning in a maddening world. The drugs trade is always going to thrive in a world that drives people mad.

The solution, I think, is to recognise the extent of the problem and to realise that whatever we are doing now is not working. That doesn’t mean that all drugs should be legal, despite what may have happened in Portugal. But it does mean some changes. And it does mean that Government should fund and support those who are trying to tackle this huge problem. There is no good reason for cannabis not to be available for those with health problems or disabilities. Or especially for palliative care. And if the objection to that is intoxication – then why does no-one suggest that morphine should not be used?

But with harder drugs, things are worse now, making the 80’s and 90’s rave scene seem, as I say... twee. And when our blood-stained streets are littered with syringes then you know that something has to change.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The Story of Ziggy



We adopted Ziggy from a cat rescue centre and he was a beautiful kitten. They called him ‘Beanie’ because he was as long as a runner bean. All we knew was that he liked lego and would steal it in the night in his temporary home.

When he first came to us he hid. He hid for three days and three nights. We had adopted two kittens at the same time – Tilly and Ziggy. Tilly would eat and drink and come for fuss, but Ziggy hid under the table. We decided that he was on hunger strike and we worried for him. We tried everything to coax him out, leaving him under the table at night with food, water and treats, but he was having none of it. After those three first days I had one of my too-occasional brain waves and decided to try to play with him with a cat toy on a string. And it worked. Ziggy chased the toy round and round, suddenly full of life, suddenly playful and more than that, eating and drinking and allowing himself to be stroked.

After that we were inseparable. He was such a naughty cat, terrorising Tilly and always sitting on the laptop or getting between our feet. He looked even more like a runner bean as he grew – a cat full of life, who loved treats, who would sit on window sills and talk to the birds in a kind of catty chatter, the meaning of which is only known to catkind. He was such a happy cat and he became very affectionate. 

There was no cat naughtier than Ziggy – he ruled the house with a face that looked like a fox – I called him ‘fox-face’ because his face reminded me of a drawing I once saw as a child of a fox. And he became my friend. He was so intelligent that he even knew how to turn on taps to drink from them or stash items he liked in hidden places. One evening in winter he made the mistake of jumping onto the woodburner and leapt from it with a hiss. He raced upstairs, jumped into the bath and turned the cold tap on. He was no pedigree, but if cats went to university he would go to Oxford.

We loved him and he was an active and lively cat, able to jump crazy heights when we played with him. He clawed furniture to shreds. He loved play and whenever we got home from work he was always there meowing for food and pestering us as only a cat can. He and Tilly even seemed to form some kind of alliance and the cat code was clearly that the humans should not be let in on their secrets.

We spent three years with him and although he was always thin he showed no signs of serious illness. Even when he got the pollen from some lillies someone had given us around his nose and had an emergency overnight stay at the vets, he was able to bounce back and soon resumed to being a rascal.
We were overprotective of him because so many of the neighbours’ cats had died on the roads. So we took him into the garden on a harness and a lead. He loved that but we knew that he wanted full freedom. He would meow to go out on his lead and his tail would be in the air as he patrolled the garden and chased birds. He tried to jump the fence on more than one occasion. Ziggy’s life was spent in escape attempts, but he was happy enough and he loved his treats.

He lost some weight and we didn’t think too much of it. I took him to the vets and they said that we should monitor him. But soon after that he began to lose strength in his back legs, unable to jump as high as he could before and we didn’t know what was wrong so took him back to the vets. They noted that he had lost weight and that there was a lump in his stomach. We agreed to let them take blood and do an x-ray and that was when we were first told that he may have the wet form of FIP – a lethal cat disease which usually only affects kittens.

We had simply thought that he had swallowed some toy, as he had stashed of toys which he hid under the sofa or elsewhere. But we were told the worst news.

His last days were spent free. When we took him off his harness in the garden he looked up as if to thank us. And he spent his end days chasing frogs, bees and butterflies. We let him stay in the garden as long as he wanted.

Slowly he began to get a pot belly from the 'wet FIP' which filled his stomach with fluid as shown by the x-ray. The lump was a gland and we were told that FIP has no cure. We requested pain relief and were given three doses of morphine for him. There was no way that we wanted him to suffer. His appetite was good up until the end, but he slowly grew more depressed, unable to jump and play as he used to do. Only Ziggy could get a rare cat disease like FIP. Tilly seemed to know what was going on and let him eat first and stopped scrapping with him.

He was sick in the night once but lived for a few weeks after diagnosis. His symptoms were depression, jaundice, a pot belly and weakened back legs. He began to walk with a stagger. On the final night we gave him some morphine, on top of some butter which he licked away. We were unwilling for him to be in pain. But he was a brave cat. The FIP was so quick to progress and we knew that we didn’t want him to suffer. So as soon as we could see that he was in pain and that it would only get worse we took him back to the vet who agreed that we should put him down.

It was such a sad and dark day for us, but there was much of the old Ziggy left and fox-face remained himself till he crossed the rainbow bridge.

Which I believe he proceeded to claw into shreds.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

God and sport




With the world cup approaching this blog post is my first blog about sport. My extra-curricular activities have taken a strange twist.

I shall also be blogging about the topic which has given me the most views on Stories Make the World ‘Go Round. That topic is Christian revival.

Because nobody – nobody – is talking about the socio-economic implications of a revival today. What has happened before can happen again. And if the chattering classes know their rumours then they will also have heard and laughed at the possibility of a Christian revival happening in the UK again. And after they have laughed, what then?

So people need to prepare and even choose sides. Choose sides because people usually either oppose or support the need for a revival. Both Christians and non-Christians. Depending on whether they feel it will be good for them personally, or good for those they love.

Please indulge me as I blog about whether and why that elusive magic that sports commentators lament has really left almost every aspect of sport. Because nostalgia and sport have a lot to do with God.

I’m qualified to write this blog post simply because I’m among one of the worst sports fans in the world. I’m the one who goes strangely silent when people talk about football. I’m the one who says ‘I like watching tennis and the world cup… and the Olympics.’ Which, I believe, among sports fans is code for ‘I literally know nothing’, like saying to a music fan, ‘I really like Phil Collins and the Now compilations’. I’m the one who was in the school football team (left back) and partly responsible for us losing 10-0 almost every match. That, believe me, set me up quite well for Christianity later on.

So, you can say, currently, there is no Christian revival in the UK. There are a few ‘outpourings’ of a kind where people seem to operate in some kind of genuine Christian gifting. There is Thy Kingdom Come (again) from May 10-20th. But we are, in my opinion, effectively (and debatably) in a declension in Europe and the West. How’s that for happy Christian jargon? Look it up – a declension is a waning of Christianity, like the moon’s sad smile going out. Despite various prophecies, there has been no revival. I’m sorry. At least we tried.

There is a revival of politics. People who like Brexit or Trump or Corbyn or Momentum or anything in between (or beyond, like the vocal and scary alt-right). Sometimes Christianity and politics are mixed together and that usually stinks, like a vision of ‘revival’ in The Handmaid’s Tale (even though that kind of ‘revival’ has never historically happened). And as an aside to anyone who wants me to write a blog post about the effect of a revival on politics – maybe do your own historical research – have past revivals really led to retrograde changes in law? I’ve never been talking about a revival of politicians. I’m talking about a revival of the people – a revival from the source of true love. But here we are talking about sport and it is way out of my comfort zone (stay in your comfort zone long-suffering readers).

What there is not, is a revival of that missing ingredient, that magic which most of us remember there once being in sport, usually when we were kids. I know, I’m being dogmatic and subjective. I’m as much a contrarian as anyone else and I’m making assumptions. Please indulge me – all writing makes assumptions (‘No it doesn’t’ says the contrarian).

We need a revival in and of sport. For sports philistines such as myself, it’s never going to be like the 80’s Olympics and Cram and Ovett and Coe ever again. It’s never going to be that romanticised world cup win ever again. Jinx. At least not without some kind of miracle. Nostalgia is a powerful force and we romanticise the past. But what if it really was better back then? Would a Christian revival mean that England win the world cup again? No-one can promise that. The sports commentators may feel that something is lacking in sport today, but how on earth is a Christian revival going to solve that problem? Saying it would might just be more fake news, a narrative that never was or could be. An obvious underhand attempt to link Christianity and sport in order to appeal to the masses. Just like politicians do when they claim a favourite team. Or worse, some kind of way to make money.

Instead, we have that most powerful of feelings - nostalgia. You can’t promise it. You can’t pin it down. You may as well attempt to promise that becoming a Christian is going to make your life better than anything you’ve ever imagined. That would be a lie. I can tell you from experience that it can make things better, but it also brings a whole shedload of trouble. Trouble like an opposing team and a Coach who seems neglectful.

A modern Christian revival could make things better, even in sport, but such a claim has to be limited to the facts. In this case we are going to have to look at historical revivals and whether or not they ever made sport better.

And you tell me how to research that? You will find a few recorded anecdotes here and there about how the Welsh revival of the early 20th century clashed with rugby. There can be historic links between football and Christianity, the formulation of teams like Manchester City coming from churches for example. We don’t want a history lesson about how the YMCA actually created basketball and volleyball. We don’t want a long list of Christian sports players who have made the game more exciting. Some of us want it to be like when Daley Thomson won in the Olympics and that was all we ever talked about at school, because he was an inspiring black role-model at a time when there were too few of those for children in white-dominated comprehensive schools. We don’t want to wade through millions of archaic words in the hope that someone happened to say that the real reason everyone felt that way when they watched their favourite sports hero was because of God. Because it meant something.

Would people lose their jobs in sport if there were a Christian revival? Doubtfully. These days there are many famous Christian sports men and women all over the world. Revivalism doesn’t, or shouldn’t clash and oppose those things that are considered good in and of themselves, like sport. People could lose all kinds of shady jobs in industries like the drugs and arms trade, if there were a revival, but sport is considered neutral in faith terms. In fact, it is considered a little more than neutral because you will often see the best from humans when they compete. And sometimes the worst. You will see more than bread and circuses – you will see sports men and women and teams who dedicate themselves and inspire people. And even if sports is the politician’s circus for the masses, it is still a circus which fascinates, influences and inspires. Like Christianity, you will get individuals who will cheat, who enhance their game in unethical ways, or those who are only in it for the money, but does this necessarily make sport itself a negative thing?

Sport has become a highly lucrative industry in which some people say the magic has gone. Maybe kids today enjoy some of it as much as adults used to do. But there seems to be something missing for those of us of a certain age. I can play Eddie Kidd’s Jump Challenge or Horace Goes Skiing on a retro computer and wonder at the way that sport has now exploded into this strange monster that it now is (that’s personification by the way).

Politicians know the value of sport and so should believers. Revivalists are no different. Billy Graham understood the necessity of linking revival with sport. That was why he had some of his biggest events in sports stadiums. He understood that if you could prove that God was somehow linked with sport then you made Christianity a little less… boring. But there is no revival and Billy Graham’s revival ethics clearly do not run in the family. These days, even the revivalists need to repent. And everyone, always needs to repent… except ourselves.

But is there a link? Is this a Christian fake news blog in which I’m going to promise that Christians in sport have always been there and when there is a revival you always find that missing magic? Not if I have a shade of integrity left I’m not.

When I researched this blog I also found that during the Welsh revival, people were told to stop doing anything ‘doubtful’. And for some of them they interpreted that as playing and watching sports. It’s ironic when you consider that the whole basis of revivalism is about freedom – about freeing people up – that so many innocent pastimes get thrown out with the bathwater. It’s like there being a revival when Christ was alive and then Peter, witnessing his death at Calvary, and his coming back to life, suddenly said ‘I’m giving up fishing’ now.

A Christian revival would only help inasmuch as more Christians are involved in sport and whether or not God himself put that magic back into the sport we loved. Whether God made that nostalgic memory happen again. Whether he let all that happen for a reason. There may not be a lot of research about the effect of Christian revivals on sport, but what there is, is a lot of research on the effect of Christian revivals on people and atmospheres. Because it is the atmosphere that is missing isn’t it? That’s part of the magic. Open the floodgates of heaven and you have better sport – because sport involves people and God is interested in people, skills and talent.

Look at organisations like Christians in Sport. There are many chaplains involved in sport. They are better qualified to talk about it all than a non-practicing Stoke City supporter. And there is a lot of prayer involved from all kinds of people.

I’ve never really understood why people can’t pray for their favourite sports heroes to win. Why not? It has never been explained to me. People pray their desires all the time. Who are any of us to say that you can’t pray that? Okay, maybe God is rooting for an apology rather than for us to pray that England win the world cup again. But I don’t know. God knows.

Because my conviction is that a Christian revival would make things better for most people in this country, I desperately want to say that it would influence sport too. That it would bring back the magic. But conscience stops me from saying that. However, there are strong links between Christian revival and sport. There would probably be a positive influence, more Christians in sport for example, a change in atmosphere and a reduction in the peripheral violence and drug use. Maybe the atmosphere would change. That nostalgia, that sense of magic and the joy at seeing sporting heroes win is known to God. All I’m saying is that if anyone can bring back the magic into sport, then God can. And that a Christian revival would make that more likely not less.

So choose sides. Or change teams.

Think happy thoughts.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Ziggy

Just an interim blog post as I haven't written here for too long. I debated whether I should post about the obvious revival of drug and knife use, the hopeless political nightmare in which we now live or some other thing.

But our three year old cat Ziggy has just been diagnosed with a rare, fatal cat disease (called FIP) and to be honest I don't want to write at the moment.

Of course - everywhere I look there are just healthy cats now. 

Here he is - please spare a prayer for him if you are the praying kind.