The Eyes Have It

20170618_075517

I’ve off-line for a while, at least as far as my blog is concerned. This is because of a number of reasons, the most memorable of which, for me, was the eye surgery I had back in April.

I have suffered from glaucoma for years now. I even have congenitally deformed eyeballs, which hasn’t helped. They aren’t quite spherical, which causes focus problems. I’ve worn glasses since I was 17. In March this year my ophthalmologist suggested I have cataract surgery and at the same time get drainage stents inserted to deal with the glaucoma.

Yes, that is my right eye in the picture above. And yes, it is scary. That’s how my eyes look, and have looked for years now. The bloodshot effect is caused by the glaucoma medication. I’m on three different eye drops for that. I use them three times a day and will do so for at least another month until it can be determined if my stents are working properly. I will then, hopefully, be able to go of the medication and my eyes should return to normal.

As for the cataracts, they are gone and artificial lenses have been inserted. That was fun an experience.

The surgery consisted of two operations (one for each eye) two weeks apart. The old lenses, the ones I was born with, were destroyed using a sonic lance rather similar, I guess, to Dr Who’s sonic screwdriver, except that it had to be actually inserted into my eye to break up the lens. The bits were then sucked out by a vacuum pump (I’m not kidding here) that was also inserted into my eye. The new lens was then put in place and the stents inserted in the bottom of each eye in a part called the trebecular mesh.

Naturally, I was under anaesthetic during these operations, which only took about twenty minutes each. The first one was fine. Although the anaesthetics were the “twilight” kind (which means I remained conscious during the operation, not that I fell in love with a sparkly non-vampire) I have no memory of the first operation. The anaesthetist introduced himself and said he would knock me out completely for about five minutes during which he would insert a needle under my eye to deliver the rest of the knock-out drops that would numb my head. That was fine by me, since I had no desire to witness (at the closest possible quarters) that part of the proceedings. He inserted a catheter into my arm and the next thing I remember was waking up in recovery. I have to this day no memory of the operation itself, or even being wheeled into or out of the theatre. My doctor said later that I was fully conscious, said hello the surgical team and followed instructions well. But the actual operation itself (mercifully) is a complete blank. Such is the nature of twilight anaesthetic.

Not so for the second time around, the operation on my left eye. I woke up during that one.

Strictly speaking, I was “awake” the whole time. But I have a memory of the last few minutes. The last thing I remembered the anaesthetist delivered the initial drug, while we talked about Canada for some reason. Then I became aware of being on the operating table. I couldn’t see anything: my right eye was closed and my left, the one being operated on, “saw” some weird things. It was like looking at a white sheet of paper over which someone had smeared orange marmalade. I know that sound bizarre, but that’s what I saw. I became aware of things “moving” behind the whiteness. I suppose those were the instruments inserted in my eye at the time. I could hear the surgeon talking. He asked me to move my head slightly to the left, which I did.

I wanted to let them know I was awake, so I emitted a groan. While I felt no pain  at all, there was a definite feeling of discomfort which made me afraid that I would start to feel pain. I wanted them to know I could sense something going on, in case they didn’t know that and it wasn’t supposed to happen. I groaned a second time.

There came more voices, I felt myself being moved and then a voice asked me to step down. I climbed off the gurney as my vision came back and sat in the recovery room where a kind nurse gave me a cup of tea and sandwiches.

I’m glad the “awake” episode occurred on the second operation. Had it happened the first time, going back for the second operation would have been much harder psychologically.

So here I am now, awaiting laser surgery next month. This is remove some “thickening” around the lenses and tweak the final touches to my eyes.

I now need glasses for reading, which I didn’t before. I used to wear glasses to correct my short-sightedness and now don’t have to, although I do wear some very weak corrective lenses when I drive because my long vision still isn’t quite perfect, and never will be.

So that’s been my health issues in the last few months. Recovering from such surgery doesn’t take long, but there is an extended period while the vision settles down and, as I said, I still need laser surgery in July.

Certainly not something I wish to do again.

Russell Proctor

 

 

.

 

 

The Greatest Sin of All

The world has never been easy. Let’s face it, there’s a lot out there that’s downright dangerous,  misunderstood and unknown. Even walking to the bus stop can get you killed these days. Terrorism, poverty, global warming, pollution…Homo sapiens has done a pretty good job screwing up a planet that had been just great for billions of years. And we’ve only been doing it since the last few thousand years, since we stopped being hunters and gatherers and settled down into communities.

And there are many reasons why we’ve done that. Not settled down, I mean screwed up the planet. But there is one thing that drives the destructive gene in human beings, that is the seed, as it were, for all the other stupidity we’ve managed to pull off since we climbed down from the trees and decided walking on two legs was a good idea (which it wasn’t).

I’m talking about ignorance.

You know what that is. We’ve all been guilty of it. Hell, I’ve managed to look pretty dumb on the odd occasion. But by ignorance I don’t mean just not knowing something. I mean deliberately deciding not to know something.

There are four types of ignorance. I mention these in my novel Plato’s Cave, but here they are again:

(1)   What we know we don’t know. For example, we know that we don’t know if there is life on other planets.

(2)   What we don’t know we don’t know. Until we know about it, we can’t actually know that we don’t know something.

(3)   What we think we know, but don’t. Maybe apples don’t really grow on trees, it just looks that way. We’ve been fooling ourselves with appearances.

(4)   What we don’t think we know, but do. Maybe we already possess the key to time travel. We just haven’t realised it yet.

Those types of ignorance are fine because they allow the possibility that our ignorance will one day be lifted. If we keep asking enough of the right sort of questions and keep looking for the answers in a practical way, there’s a chance our ignorance will change to knowledge. In other words, the four types of ignorance listed above are scientific. Used properly, they have the ability to lead a sufficiently curious anthropoid ape towards the truth.

But there is another type of ignorance that actually lies beneath these four. And that is the type I’m calling the greatest sin of all.

(5) What we choose not to know.

For many reasons, there are people who deliberately decide not to know about something. The knowledge they eschew might conflict with their own personal beliefs. If they accepted the truth, it would contradict what they choose to believe, and that keeps them ignorant. Or, they might think that discovering the truth is too much like hard work. Or it requires them to associate with people they don’t wish to acknowledge. There are many reasons. None of them are legitimate.

This is what makes that type of ignorance a sin.

A few examples:

  1.  Homophobes choose to be ignorant about why people are LGBT. They think there is a choice in the matter, that gay people somehow, at some point in their lives, choose to be gay. The homophobes don’t want to know that gay people are gay because they are gay. They were born that way. Maybe homophobes object on religious grounds. Maybe they think gay people have some kind of hidden plan to steal children because they can’t have their own. Or that there is some kind of  “gay agenda”. (If there is I missed the memo). All poppycock of course. It’s worth remembering that the word “homophobe” means “fear of man”. That’s what their hatred stems from. Fear. Not knowledge.
  2. Literature.  Love it or hate it, it’s still a necessary part of our lives. I am a teacher and when I teach poetry I tell my students that there are only two types of people who read poetry: other poets, and students who are forced to read it by their teachers. That’s not true, of course, but it breaks the ice. I then tell them that the reason people don’t like reading poetry is because it forces them to think. And who wants to do that? Then I ask them what pop songs they like and get some responses. Their interest in poetry usually shifts after I explain to them that songs are just poetry set to music. They already like poetry, they just weren’t aware of it (see types of ignorance number 4 above). So too with other types of literature. Reading helps relieve ignorance. But some people choose not to read because it interferes with their decision not to think about things, or it’s too much hard work.
  3. Global warming. Most people accept global warming. A few don’t. A dangerous few. They have chosen to be ignorant for commercial reasons. Because the fact of global warming interferes with their desire to make enormous wads of cash they refuse to accept the truth. These people unfortunately have the capacity to influence politicians who decide to accept their dangerous disbelief because it keeps them in power.

There are many other examples. War. Religion. Conspiracy theories. World hunger. Terrorism. Astrology. All of these stem, ultimately, from deliberate ignorance.

That’s why I became a teacher. I help take some of the ignorance away from the world. Sometimes I despair when I go on the internet and find someone touting homeopathy, or warning that the world will end next Tuesday week. But I keep trying, because deliberate ignorance can be fought and defeated.

Russell Proctor   http://www.russellproctor.com

 

Why Nothing Works

I’m going out on a limb here. I’m going to say something totally radical and see who tells me I’m a complete moron. I’m also going to see who agrees with me and who says ‘Yes, you have a point, but…’

Because all of those points of view are valid.

So this is what I’m going to say: No one is right.

That’s right. No one is right. Right?

As we grow up, various people tell us what is right and what is wrong. Most of the time, at least during our early years, these people are relations. Parents, uncles and aunts, well-meaning (and sometimes not so well-meaning) brothers and sisters and cousins unto the fourth and fifth generations. Later on, these people are teachers, and friends, and then celebrities and even later on, they are our own children and then grand-children and basically the rest of society telling us do it this way or get out of town.

But in the end, the only person you should listen to is yourself.

And here’s the rider on that last statement that completely throws caution to the wind: not even you are right.

You’re wrong, ok? And so am I. And so is my mother, and your mother, and Kanye West and your favourite teacher in primary school and that man up on the pulpit telling you what you have to believe, and your favourite song and that inspirational meme you found on Facebook this morning.

Inspiration1

None of them (us). Because none of them (us) has the slightest idea what they’re (we’re) talking about. And they (we) never have.

You see, life doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Every single one of the 108 billion people who have ever lived has had to wing it. That isn’t to say we haven’t looked for guidance, or embraced life lessons with a fervour that has often led to misunderstanding. Religion has brought comfort to billions of those billions, and yet has also caused divisiveness on a global and catastrophic scale. Worldly wisdom is both comforting and self-contradictory. Science strives to give us answers and yet produces more questions. Even your mother (sorry to bring her up, but she is important) has changed her mind about how best to raise you. But none of them, I venture to say, has the slightest idea what they’re talking about.

And this is perfectly natural. Because every one of those 108 billion people has been an individual. Unique. As a teacher, I try to instil the art of critical thinking in my students. ‘Question everything!’ I demand. ‘Even what I’m saying to you now!’ The ability to ask questions is the single greatest ability of the human mind, which is the single greatest and most complex organ in the known universe. ‘The worst reason for believing something,’ I continue, foam often frothing in the corners of my mouth, ‘is that someone told you it was so!’

I have no idea if any of my students have ever done what I have implored. It may well be a good thing if they haven’t. Because knowing that life is basically a make-it-up-as-you-go scenario and nothing anyone has ever said actually means squat is not the most comforting way to live one’s life.

Let me give you an example. Maybe more than one.

I’m a writer. I’ve had books and short stories published. This makes me feel good. I enjoy knowing that people are reading what I’ve written. I have so far made a bit of money from my writing. Not much, but making money isn’t why I write.  If I was slaving over a hot computer in order to make money I’d be in the IT industry or something to do with computers that actually made money. That’s my conscious decision and I’m fine with that. But I’ve read a lot about how to write books, and how to promote what I’ve written and how to make sales and I’ve also read a lot about how what I read about promotion actually doesn’t work and even the Big Five publishers have no idea what they’re doing and if I listened to both sides of the argument my head would explode. So nobody knows what they’re doing.

Take elections. Any elections. Nothing divides people more completely than politics. Except maybe religion. Both politics and religion have been responsible for an immense amount of human suffering, possibly to the same degree. But let’s take politics, because if you started me on religion my head would explode, and it’s already done that once so far since you started reading this. It doesn’t actually matter what politics a particular candidate wants to follow. Because all politicians are united in one way: a politician is utterly useless unless he or she is in power. So a politician’s whole agenda is geared towards getting into power, by whatever means possible. Once in power, he or she has the sole agenda of staying in power as long as possible, because otherwise they have no meaning. So politics is pointless, because ultimately nothing they do makes any point, because their whole agenda is self-centred.

Take science. I love science. Science has put people on the Moon and created this computer I’m typing on now and even saved my life when I was nine years old and was very, very sick. I have nothing against science personally. But it really does make life difficult. It’s got hard mathematics and big words and forces people to think and let’s face it, most people don’t want to think. They want answers, and all science does is provide ones they don’t want to know about. Global warming? Way inconvenient! Vaccines are safe? But that means the ‘research’ I did on the internet about how it causes autism is wrong! Evolution? But that means God may not actually exist! Excuse me, but I’m not sure I want to know that! And then you get scientists who don’t agree with each other. Where is that going?

Take human relations. I’m divorced. I got married and it lasted less than a year before my wife and I separated. I’m not casting blame here; it was the fault of both of us. We applied for a joint dissolution of marriage and were quite amicable about it. I even remember that after the divorce we both went to lunch together to celebrate. Human relations (love, romance, sex) are so unbelievably difficult that people like me just have no idea what is going on. There are a million how-to books and websites on obtaining a mate, and dating services and copious amounts of advice from friends and relations. And in the end we end up (or don’t) with someone. They may be the person of our dreams, Most often they aren’t. But most of us end up pretty much more or less happy. Usually. Or not. Because in the end, no one has the slightest idea about how to go about finding the right person to wake up next to forever.

Take diets. No, actually, don’t. Literally.

Look, I could go on. But basically, the point I’m making is that in every field of human endeavour there is a large number of people who spout all sorts of wisdom and how-to suggestions and tell us what it’s all about and what works and what doesn’t and what we must do in order to succeed or at least not fail or avoid fiery pits of eternity and in the end none of them actually have something that necessarily applies to us. We are all individuals.

What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for you. Or me. Or anyone else. In the end, we’re all just making it up as we go.

I’m sorry if that’s depressing. But there’s nothing I – or you – can do about it.

Just do your best. That’s all anyone can ask of you.

 

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

 

 

 

 

Being Dead

Recently, I’ve thought about  being dead. Not that anyone I know has died lately, and I don’t have a terminal illness and I’m not thinking of shuffling off my mortal coil anytime soon. But it’s an interesting thing to think about nevertheless. After all, it’s something that we all have to do eventually, like it or not, so we may as well accept the inevitability of it. Because people are different, they have different attitudes to death, and most of these are determined by what they think will happen afterwards. Religions favour the idea that a good life will be rewarded and a bad one punished – although the concept of eternal punishment for a temporary sin is a weird one when you think about it, and more than a little unfair. But is it a given that anything at all will happen?

I mean, I know things will happen after my death. The world will keep turning, seasons will change, events will continue in their inexorable way. It’s just that I’m not going to be around to see them. So yes, there definitely is life after death. It’s just not a life I’ll be participating in. The universe seemed to function moderately well before I was born and I have the feeling it will continue to do so after I’m gone.

But of course, that’s not what most people worry about. They are more concerned about what happens to them. Which is understandable. But is an afterlife all it’s cracked up to be? Is it actually a ‘consummation devoutly to be wished’ as Shakespeare put it when Hamlet was considering not bearing any fardels (He actually uses the word fardels  – check it out at Hamlet III, i).

There are many considered possibilities about what happens when we die, and  I’ll address some of them. They aren’t all of the possibilities I’m sure, but they are the major ones people tend to consider as possible outcomes of this brief mortal span of ours. And bear in mind, this is just my opinion. People are free to believe other things if they wish.

All right, so let’s assume I’m dead. There are a myriad of possible causes of that. Extreme old age is about as attractive as I guess it gets, so let’s pretend I’ve just popped off after a good sojourn on this turgid little planet. So, what happens to me now?

1) I’ll go to heaven, or achieve some state of life after death where I am rewarded by  an applicable deity.

I won’t suggest any particular version of heaven or specify any actual deity, as  there are a lot of religions around. Some scholars put the number of different creeds at about 4,200. I don’t know which might be the “right one”. If we were honest, we’d have to admit no one does.  Nor is there being a right one required for this topic. Seriously, most people are the same religion as their parents. Coincidence? Of course not. Children are indoctrinated into a particular religion depending on what faith their parents have. Some change later in life, of course, but mostly it’s a safe bet that a person was raised in the same church as the rest of their family. So it’s just an accident of birth that anyone is the religion they are.

Now, whatever the version of heaven being considered here, it’s probably not going to appeal to me. Think about it. No one is actually sure what’s going to happen even if you do go to heaven. Look at just one viewpoint, which asserts that Lazarus spent four days dead. This would be a great opportunity, one might think, to bring back some details about the place. But he didn’t. No one knows. Even those “psychics” who reckon they can channel the dead never ask what’s it like? All we get are vague things about forgiving those left behind and “I feel fine”. Details, please! And if the glory of heaven is too great for mere mortals to explain to other mere mortals, then it’s beyond our comprehension and therefore meaningless. Check out my novel Plato’s Cave for more information about that viewpoint.

Recently, a boy who wrote a book (with the aid of his father) about dying and going to heaven admitted he’d made it up. It was a bestseller because it satisfied people’s preconceived notions about heaven; it told them what they wanted to believe. But no one actually knows.

My point is, I don’t know if I’d like it. Imagine if everyone in heaven is so holy all they do is talk about God for eternity. If God arranged it that way, he’s been a bit selfish. If he is an eternal deity, he doesn’t need constant praise. That just makes him human.

Others say you get to be with your loved ones. Fair enough, I love my family, and it would be great to see my Dad again, but I don’t want to spend forever with them. Get together occasionally and have some fun, sure, but not forever. Let’s face it, that’s a long time.

If we believe some commentators, we’ll be “one with God”. What does that mean? Are we actually a part of him, like another limb or something? Are we spiritual part? If so, what does that mean? God has given me no peace in life, so I doubt I’ll be terribly comforted by being a part of him after death. If I’m to learn the love and truth of God only by dying and becoming a part of him after I’m dead, it’s a bit late.

Many religions, if not all, focus on the afterlife because life itself actually sucks for a great many people and it’s a comfort to them to think they have immortal and eternal souls beyond the ability of mere physical laws to detect or explain. It gives purpose to their lives, maybe. That’s good. But making the most of our time while alive is important too.

Whether we are talking Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or any of the others, details of what happens in heaven are actually rather vague. They shouldn’t be.

So I think I’ll pass. I don’t want to spend eternity somewhere if I haven’t read the brochure.

 

2) I’ll go to hell.

Another tricky religion-dependent concept. Hell, of course, is an invention, because churches needed to frighten people into believing, because having faith is really hard and so a threat of eternal punishment would give them incentive. Even Pope Francis has stated that there is no Hell.

So, no. I’m not going to a place that doesn’t exist. Besides, it’s not fair to have an eternal punishment for a temporary sin. I steal a loaf of bread to feed my starving family and I get punished FOREVER? That’s not justice.

 

3) I’ll become a ghost or spirit or something paranormal.

This means people who fancy themselves as TV hosts will come along with torches and delicate recording equipment and attempt to find me or exorcise me or something. I don’t fancy hanging about the same place, presumably the place where I died, for eternity. I wouldn’t do it. If I had the ability to walk through walls and be invisible I’d put those abilities to some good use, not hang about twiddling my ethereal thumbs waiting for some idiot with a camera to spend their time looking for me.

Have you ever noticed on those TV shows where they look for ghosts or Bigfoot or the Sasquatch or whatever spooky critter has taken their fancy that they never actually find one? Ever? I wonder why. Are the hunters that unlucky, that incompetent, or is it that the things they are looking for don’t actually exist? Maybe a combination of all three.

Of course, believing in ghosts is easy, because you can’t be disproved. If I say ‘Ghosts aren’t real’, it’s easy to prove me wrong – just find a ghost. But if I declare ‘Ghosts are real’ it’s impossible to prove me wrong. When asked for evidence, all I have to say is ‘We haven’t found one yet.’ Science is falsifiable. Faith is not.

 

4) I’ll reincarnate.

If I’m supposed to improve as a person, at least let me remember what I did wrong the last time so I have some kind of chance. If I’m going to come back as an ant or a toad or something because of mistakes I’ve made (see my above thoughts on unfair punishment) then some idea of precisely what it was I did wrong might help.  You take your chances.

Sure, religion give us an idea of how we should behave in real life, but that pesky Karma idea means I’ll be sent back again and again to have another go, like a kid who keeps failing his exams and is held back until the other kids laugh at him. Maybe I should study for my exams a bit harder, but this just makes it my fault, which doesn’t tie in with forgiveness and divine mercy. It’s just petty. I’m being told how to behave, and even if I do achieve relief from reincarnation the whole problem of what happens then is still there. The doubts and uncertainties and the fact that no one actually knows remain unresolved. It solves nothing in the end.

 

5) Nothing will happen.

You see, the problem with possibilities 1 to 3 above is that they depend on the idea that I will have some sort of consciousness after I’m dead. But there’s no evidence I will. Possibility 4, reincarnation, means I don’t have any conscious memory of my previous lives, and that’s unfair.

The most attractive possibility, therefore, is this one. Number 5. Nothing will happen. I won’t be sitting there going ‘Hmm, I’m not supposed to do what I did last time but I don’t know what that actually was.’ I won’t be praising some deity that made me flawed in the first place and gave me the choice whether to have a good time or not and I choose having a good time and then he gets mad because he didn’t want me to. I won’t be going to Hell, because it doesn’t exist. And being a ghost would be really, really boring and if I did have ‘other business’ I’d make sure I did it and got the next bus out of there.

So I’m looking forward to number 5. I will have moved on. It won’t bother me. I don’t have to be concerned about anything at all. The universe will go on without me very well.

If the history of the universe is a line from the Big Bang up to the moment you are reading this, like so:

____________________________________________

and I was to pick a random point on that line that stretches for more than 13 billion years, the overwhelming possibility is that I wouldn’t exist. I am now 57 years old. So the chances of picking a year on that line that falls within my lifetime is 57 out of 13,000,000,000. Or, as Douglas Adams would have put it, ‘as near to nothing as makes no odds’. So really, I’m not very important at all. None of us are, in the cosmic scheme of things.

This is an idea that a lot of religious people have an issue with. They want to be important. They want to matter. That’s fair enough. Be important. Write a book. Save children from starving. Rescue animals. Do something that makes you important NOW, while you’re alive, not after you’re dead. It’s too late then.

So believe what you want. This is a personal reflection about me. Just make the here and now as useful as you can, because it’s your one shot at it.

Russell Proctor  http://www.russellproctor.com

I Don’t Like Chilli

Well I don’t. I see no sense in eating something that, to me, takes away the taste of the food, if the food has a perfectly agreeable taste of its own. The same can be said of curry. I can understand some people liking it, and that’s fine. That’s not my gripe today. I don’t like chilli. And I should be allowed not to like it.

My gripe is levelled at those people who tell me I have to like chilli, who insist that I like chilli, who put it in my food whether I want it there or not. And those TV chefs who put it in everything and those food critics who regard chilli as some sort of venerable but fiery god that must be incorporated to “bring out” or “enhance” or “zest up” the flavour of a dish.

It isn’t, apparently, addictive, although some people claim it is. One psychologist at least, Jason Goldman, declares that some people have a masochistic tendency to enjoy harsh, bitter or fiery flavours. To me, chillies are just a pain in the mouth.

So if some people like Jamie Oliver want to nibble on a chilli instead of having a cup of coffee, that’s their problem. What I don’t like is when chefs put the chilli in their dishes as if it’s a normal, everyday ingredient. It happens: go to a restaurant of even moderate swankiness and peruse the bill of fare. Many of the dishes, in my experience, contain chilli. Mild, perhaps, hidden, perhaps, but nevertheless present. And if I don’t like chillies, which I don’t, then my choice is limited. Because try asking the chef to leave out the chillies. Not going to happen.

I once argued with a chef about this. She said that in a restaurant, one must eat the dish as it is prepared, like it or not.

‘But I’m not going to eat something I don’t like,’ I replied. ‘If I don’t like chillies, I don’t want them in the food I eat.’

‘That is ridiculous,’ she replied. ‘The chef is an artist. How dare you comment negatively on the way they prepare the dish. They have created it!’

‘If I don’t like a book, I don’t read it,’ I countered calmly. ‘If I don’t like a movie I don’t watch it. If I don’t care for a painting I won’t look at it. So why is it different for a chef?’

After spluttering a few moments the best she could some up with was, ‘But the chef is an artist!’

True story.

Anyway, my point is that there are people out there who enforce their tastes on us. And a lot of people eat chilli because they feel it’s the thing to do, that someone who seems to know something about something tells them they should be doing it, so they do. Like getting tattoos. Or wearing their baseball caps backwards (I have seen this STILL going on in 2014!)  Or following some banal TV show. But some of us don’t want to do these things, thanks, and we shouldn’t have to. And we shouldn’t be pressured by people to do so.

So chilli is a fad. It’ll pass (there is a very mild, indirect scatological pun there). But until then I’m finding it hard to eat in restaurants.

banman

By the way, I also don’t like bananas or mangoes. Living as I do in Queensland, Australia, I’ve people almost faint when I reveal that little nugget. ‘How can you not like bananas?’ they cry, with as much horror as if I’d questioned the matrimonial state of their parents. ‘You’re not a Queenslander!’

Um, yes I am actually, born and raised.

I just don’t like them.

So I’m sorry if any chilli fans out there feel outraged. I’m sure most of you are sane, decent people who can cut others a bit of slack because they don’t like eating something that physically hurts. But there’s always a few who spoil it for everyone else. I try to ignore them, but it’s hard sometimes, especially with people like Jamie Oliver putting the vile things in every single dish and expecting us to like it.

Please keep your tastes to yourself. People should be allowed not to like something, and should be allowed to insist that food be served the way they want, not the way some ‘artist’ wants it to be. I am perfectly entitled to write an unreadable book. That’s my prerogative as a writer. But if no one reads, I’m in no position to complain. If I want people to read what I write, I need to think of my audience.

So lay off, chilli nuts who demand I like them too. I don’t. Get used to it.

 

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

Osteomyelitis goes to the bone.

When I was nine years old (like way back in 1966) I had osteomyelitis in my left ankle. This is a severe bone infection which causes pain, swelling and fever. I just woke up one morning and found myself limping. Fortunately, my father was a doctor and he got a surgeon friend to diagnose me and within days I was operated on. Normally, the treatment for osteo involves antibiotics, and we did those, except cleaning out dead bone tissue is also usually necessary.

As I was only a child at the time, there was some fear that my left leg would stop growing and I would now be an adult with an under-sized leg. This didn’t happen, mainly because Dad’s friend got to it in time, for which I am eternally grateful.

untitled

It wasn’t a pleasant time for me. I was in hospital for what seemed like forever, then at home in bed with a cast on my leg for more months. I missed most of that year of school. My teacher supplied me with work so I could keep up. But it was a lonely and painful time. I became intolerant of people, I quickly grew tired and bored when friends came around to play – after all, I wasn’t in any position to run around the backyard with them. My family was great and caring and loving, but I still remember that time vividly. I still also have a scar on my left ankle that is very sensitive. It is directly over a nerve that still occasionally tingles and if I bump that area the pain is excruciating and debilitating for a while.

One night in hospital the nurse refused to give me pain medication (morphine) even though I was in desperate pain, and despite the doctor having ordered the nurses to give me medication as I requested it. She said I just had a broken leg. I have nothing against nurses: quite the contrary, they are an amazing (and under-paid) branch of the medical profession. But this nurse didn’t do me any favours. The doctor found out the next day and made sure I had as much medication as I needed.

Not everyone appreciated my condition. When I did finally go back to school I was on crutches for a while. My teacher was under orders from the principal to ensure that I wasn’t jostled or bumped trying to go up or down the stairs when class was let out. He didn’t. Mum arrived one day to see me trying to limp down the stairs with other kids crowding around me. I remember one day the principal (who had the delightful name of Mr Death – true story) carried me down the stairs himself.

Other kids could be unthinking, too. I was bullied, hassled, laughed at because I was weak and on crutches for most of that year. Not everyone can understand these things, especially at nine years of age.

gaefig3a
Still, I got over it all – physically, at least. I still feel some of the mental anguish of that time. It wasn’t easy being the bookish kid in the class in the first place, but to be the bookish kid on crutches with a box under the desk to put my foot on and having the principal carry me down the stairs was asking for trouble. I didn’t stay at that school much longer and went to another one where I could make a fresh start and no one knew about what had happened to me.

So if you know a person who has been ill for a long time, give them a hug and ask them what you can do to help. My family was great, but not everyone is as fortunate as I was. Try to see things from their point of view. The world is just that much harder when you are fighting just to be normal.

If you yourself have a long-term illness, I empathise with you. Stay strong and try to find thing sto make you smile. Every little triumph is a major step forwards.

 

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

 

The Magnificence of Being Insignificant

The Cassini spacecraft has taken a picture of Earth and its moon from out near Saturn. It is an evocative one (see above). Taken on 19 July 2013, the picture isn’t the first of its kind. We’ve had the famous  Pale Blue Dot picture taken by Voyager in 1990. And the Cassini picture will be added to with other things eventually. Photo time is precious out near Saturn, and there is much work for the spacecraft to do. But this is what we have so far. Earth is the bright shiny bit in the middle; the smaller dot is the Moon. (Picture courtesy of NASA).

It stirs my blood that this picture captures every single one of the 7 billion people on Earth. Everything we’ve done, everything we’ve achieved, all the stupid mistakes we’ve made, all of history, and all of life as we know it, happened on that tiny bit of dirt in the immensity of space.

It is hard to look at this picture and not feel conflicted. On the one hand, we have an overwhelming sense of isolation and insignificance. The universe is so big it contains absolutely everything there is. It is so bizarre we are only just beginning to understand how bizarre, much less comprehend its weirdness and explain it. And there we are, so small that if you dropped into the Cosmos randomly, the chances of being anywhere near enough to even notice the Earth exists are not far removed from infinity to one against. It is hard to accept that some god or gods created this enormity and then made Earth so utterly pointless.

On the other hand, the picture tells me we are utterly amazing creatures. The very fact that we can take this picture, or the Pale Blue Dot or any of the others, is an indication of just how bloody brilliant we are when we try.

If we are the only sentient beings in the universe, as Carl Sagan pointed out, then we have an enormous responsibility to get things right before we become extinct. If the universe has life other than us in it, then it must be so far away the chances of ever meeting it are next to none. If the universe is teeming with life, then what a magnificent opportunity to “join the club”.

Cassini-spacecraft_0-580x435

 

It’s a shame, then, that we waste so much time on dumb things. Being sentient takes its toll. The fact that we can think makes us think we are enormously important. We are selfish, wanting to be important, successful and meaningful. We only have one shot at this, so we want it to work. Evolution has required us to be competitive, and we are, to the point of destroying others and ourselves. To the point of screwing up the little we have. People invent gods because they are frightened of oblivion and because they require meaning (even if most religions say we are incapable of understanding god’s plan anyway). We worship technology because it is a way of learning about the universe and also because it helps to provide the instant gratification our short, violent lives require. We fight among ourselves because the orthodoxies we embrace only make sense if others believe them too. We have to feel special, so we make sure everyone else suffers.

But then we go and take this picture, and suddenly it all gets put into perspective. We are both insignificant and mind-bogglingly amazing at the same time. For a little patch of over-emotional DNA, we haven’t done that badly. The more people come to appreciate a picture like this, the more hope there is that we come to terms with it.

Is destroying this beautiful blue little world worth being selfish? Is the brief glimmer of life you have worth wasting on triviality? I’m not asking everyone on Earth to achieve greatness. There isn’t room for that.

But try, ok?