Thursday, 31 December 2015

That Ain’t Working, That’s The Way You Do It, You Get Money For Your Sperm and Your Porn For Free

I have to finish the year with this little gem. It's from an article in the Telegraph about how English women are going to Denmark for sperm. Which wasn't the way I read this paragraph...

When “John”, one of the 250 regular donors on the books of European Sperm Bank, walks through the door, the attraction of using a Danish donor seems a little more obvious. In his twenties, with Nordic good looks and utterly charming, he donates three times a week, getting paid around £30 a visit. He insists that although the money makes a difference, it’s his desire to help others that is key. “Instead of donating blood, you can do this to make people really happy,” he tells me.

Yeah, right. Three times a week!

Have a Prosperous 2016.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Rey is Not A Feminist Heroine, and Kick-Ass Females are Actually Male Fantasies

So there’s a new Star Wars movie out, in case you hadn’t noticed, and it has a female action heroine (Rey, played by Daisy Ridley) and a black male hero (Finn, played by John Boyega). I’m not going to discuss that, because Star Wars is now a Disney movie, and Disney movies have central characters like Rey and Finn. Rey is Disney’s take on the kick-ass heroine.

Kick-ass heroines have been a staple of Japanese manga since the Dawn of Manga (and Joss Whedon is a huge manga fan, which is where both Buffy and Dollhouse come from) and manga got it from earlier Japanese stories about warrior women. Furthermore, the idea of Warrior Women and Goddesses is as old as all sorts of northern European myths - which is where Wagner got his Valkyries from.

But feminist heroines? Are you kidding? First, all kick-ass females are always hot, as well as fit and healthy. So that’s really feminist. Second, they right wrongs with often extreme violence dispensed with nary a doubt. Bad guy? Kill. Move On. So that’s really a feminist thing to do as well. Third, they don’t dissemble, manipulate, or engage in “relationship management” (aka “lying”). Which is also pretty feminist. Nikita uses her considerable sexuality feminine power on men, but since Maggie Q is tall, slim and very hot, she doesn’t count as feminist.

Since kick-ass heroines are women, they don’t carry any freight of moral expectation. They can kill, maim, detonate and destroy at excessive will without anyone wondering about their moral character. The only male action hero who can wreck as much havoc as Maggi Q’s Nikita is James Bond, and he is always told off for being a near-psycopathic rogue at least once in every movie. Most ruthless male killers, such as Denzel Washington’s Equalizer, turn out to have been brutalised by their time in Special Forces, or something similar. The capacity of the female for psychopathic levels of violence at the drop of a hat is a cultural given. This is a boon for writers and directors who want maximum carnage with minimum time wasted on explanation and moral justification.

Why the growth in kick-ass heroines in western culture? It’s tempting to blame Joss Whedon and Sarah Michelle Gellar, who found a way to westernise the extreme Otherness of manga heroines. But the real blame lies with an earlier creation: the anti-hero. Anti-heroes do the right thing, eventually and reluctantly, for the wrong reasons and with the wrong attitude. They are competent and capable, but also cynical, lost, disillusioned and have questionable personal morals. Anti-heroism passed into the mainstream and made all male lead characters more complicated, requiring backstories and explanations. (Or exceptional luck with casting: why waste words when you can cast Harrison Ford as Han Solo and let his face do all the explaining?) It got to the point where it was impossible to have a simple male hero unless he was wearing a cape or a mask. And after the Dark Knight even the capes got complicated.

But with a kick-ass heroine, it’s easy. Women are known to be random complicated. Having swallowed the utter implausibility of her combat skills and strength, why strain at the gnat of psychology? Anyway, she’s a SHE, so there’s nothing to explain: mood swings, emotional upsets, changes of mind and motivation, all come for free with a female character. So there’s no need for characterisation or character development. Male characters change and develop (the one weakness of the Bond franchise is that Bond doesn’t change): female characters are created whole and perfect. (Quick: think of any female character with a development arc who isn’t played by Demi Moore or Sandra Bullock.) So if you want a simple hero, get a heroine.

The kick-ass heroine is a male fantasy figure: she can take care of herself, doesn’t exploit the impressionable young men around her, hauls her share of the load, takes responsibility for getting stuff done, and is generally a pretty decent sort of chap to have around, despite being hot. So just like thousands of teenage girls then. She’s not whiny, dependent, manipulative, exploiting, and above all, she shows up and doesn’t flake. She is the Girl All Men Want But No Girl Wants To Be. The fantasy isn’t about “hot”, as “hot” is the default for actresses, unless fat-or-ugly is a feature of the character, as in many comedies. The fantasy is about a woman who is capable, straightforward and dedicated to a higher goal than a new pair of shoes.

By contrast, feminism is obsessed with power, not capability. A feminist heroine wouldn’t be kicking ass at all: she would be giving the orders for men to die kicking ass. And then escaping on her personal transporter when the Rebel Alliance flew in to save the day. And therein lies the problem. Someone who does that is not a hero. The Big Three of World War Two - Patton, Montgomery and Rommel - are admired as commanders, but not as heroes. “Feminist heroine” is a contradiction in terms. Rey, Buffy, Nikita and the others are plain old heroines, and there’s nothing “feminist” about them.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Dear Pamela Stephenson, Here’s The Reply to Your Recent Fake Question

The other day in the Guardian online (I have to stop reading that) Pamela Stephenson had a fake love problem concerning a woman in her mid-forties who had not had sex for ten years, missed it and was worried that a future partner would be put off by her extended period of chastity.

Here's the reply I couldn't post from work.

Dear Fake Lady,

I’m going to assume that you have not suffered some awful disfiguring accident, nor an emotionally traumatic event that has left you incapable of relating to men except as fellow members of the economic machine in which I assume you are also a cog. I’m also going to assume you are size twelve or under, exercise at least three times a week and have managed to maintain a pleasant and charming exterior.

So...

You are right. Don’t mention that you haven’t had sex for ten years, in what is supposed to be the prime of a woman’s sexual life. A man will rightly take your behaviour as proof that your sexual drive is minimal and politely end the conversation as quickly as possible so he can meet a woman who experiences desire. No man over the age of thirty has any sympathy for a woman complaining she can't get laid. He was rejected by so many of them in his twenties that as far as he’s concerned, her current dry spell is her due karma. Any woman can find a man to have sex with, anywhere, at any time of day. If that’s all she wants.

You want more than sex. Much, much more. You want sex on your terms with a man who ticks as much of your 463-bullet point checklist as possible. And you don't want him to provide you with just the physical act. You want him to provide you with what the physical act means to you. Which is one or more of about two hundred and forty-three different things, none of which are events in the physical world, and all of which are events in your interior world of emotions and feelings.

And why do you want all those Good Feelz? Because you’re wondering why you should, or how you can, go on hauling yourself through the day without some Good Feelz to encourage you. Is this it? Is this all you have to look forward to?

Yep. It is. Welcome to the rest of your life. For the next forty years you are going to work, feed and wash yourself, keep your lodgings clean and tidy, keep yourself fit and healthy, eat well, read challenging books, go on holiday and persue whatever hobby you have... all for no other reason than you woke up alive again. This is where you prove you're an adult. Happiness, love, belonging and other such happy hormone stuff are for children. Adults live right, day after day, for no reward and no reason, and that is the definition of self-respect.

Woman up. Quit whining. And buy a dildo.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Recent Music - November / December 2015

I’ve been hitting the music recently. Here’s a list and some examples...

(Some of these seem only to be available from You Tube)

Black Widow - In This Moment

The Strange Case of… - Halestorm

Late Night Tales / Nils Frahm

Going to Hell - The Pretty Reckless

A 22 CD Box set of nearly all Stravinsky's work - basically a re-issue of the "Stravinsky Conducts" recordings

A box set of Ry Cooder soundtracks

We Are Harlot - We Are Harlot

The First 3 EP’s - Golden Teacher

No Deal Remixed - Melaine de Blasio

Elaenia - Floating Points

Magister Leonis, Sacred Music from 12th-Century Paris

Gregorian Chant - Choral School of Vienna High Church

Canto Gregoriano (yes, that one!)
 

Heavenly Revelations - Hildegard of Bingen

Facade, William Walton
 

Works for Solo Vihuela, Luys Milan

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Mac Air 11” vs Windows laptop?

I spilled a small amount of water on the top-right hand side on my 11” Mac Air a couple of weeks ago, and though I mopped up quickly, and it carried on working for a while, but once it went into hibernation it refused to wake up again. When I connected the power lead, the light didn’t come on. The guys at Mac1 Spitalfields pronounced it dead, and ridiculously expensive to repair, and my insurers paid up the cost of a new one minus the excess. So I bought the 13” 256GB version as an upgrade, which I had been thinking of doing for a while. I really can’t justify a MacPro with Retina - I’m never going to be doing image processing on a grand scale.

Of course, the original upgrade plan would have left me with the 11” Air as a travelling computer. Right now, I’m back using the old 10” Asus EEPC, which while it works, really doesn’t handle Chrome very well, stutters a lot when I edit in Evernote and can come to a halt when task-switching. Four or so years ago it cost about £200, and needs to be upgraded. Software has moved on, and bloated.

£200 now gets me a 2 x 16 GB Chromebook, especially if I really want an 11” screen. If I can live with a 13” screen and a 3lb computer, I can get a proper laptop for around £250 - £400 depending on storage. From Amazon it will have Win 8.1 and there can be issues with upgrading to Win 10 with some OEM installs – I have an issue with Win 7 on the Asus. The spec of those mid-price machines is variable at best, and looking in PC World suggests that the keyboards can be random in quality. If I want an i5-level spec, it’s going to be around £600 for a 13” machine.

Let’s deal with the 11 vs 13 thing. The Air actually has an 11.6” screen with 1366x748 pixels, and the 13” has 1440x900. These are different aspect ratios, but in terms of real estate, the 11” gives 1,021,768 pixels and the 13” gives 1,296,00, which is almost 30% more. Frankly, I’m not noticing it while writing in Evernote. I probably would if doing photo manipulation.

How much is the 11” 4MB x 128GB Air? With a keyboard you can only love? And a solid aluminium body? Oh, yes, £749. Which I know is 11” vs 13”, but it’s also 2 lbs vs the 3 lbs+ of the 13” machine. I’m not taking a chance that the lower price has been achieved by scrimping on the processor, HDD or motherboard. I can avoid by getting an i3/i5 or above 13” Wintel machine, but then it costs about £100 less than the 13” Air, and we have the same arguments again. If I needed to use Windows and was doing something that needed computational heft, I’m fairly sure I’d go for an i5 / i7 Asus Zenbook – and those things cost as much as the equivalent Macs. (Sure, there’s stuff on sale at Amazon for less than these numbers, but look closely and you’ll find it has Win 7, or is almost three years old, and may not be Win 10 upgrade-friendly.)

There’s what looks to be the truly awesome Chillblast Helios i5 6200U 13 Ultrabook with 8 x 250GB, what looks like a good chicklet keyboard, a 1920x1080 screen and an aluminium unibody chassis and all for just £735 (inc VAT). My alarm bells ring on seeing that they offer to upgrade the glue that holds the heat sink to the CPU for £5.99, and that may reduce temperatures by up to 5 degrees Centigrade. Um… why not just do that anyway? It’s less than 1% of the final price? It’s an odd thing to tell people is an option. But… that spec in a Mac would be nearly twice the price at £1,319. Shame you can’t see or try a Chillblast. I would want to if I was after a Wintel laptop. Also Chillblasts are hand-made, and for computers that’s not always a good thing.

While we’re on the subject of Apple’s pricing strategy, here’s why it is what it is. Their core market is photographers and video makers. A high-quality telephoto lens can cost as much as a 15” Mac Pro Retina with all the trimmings. A basic pro-quality lens costs as much as a decent 26”+ display. Compared to camera kit, Macs aren’t that expensive. They handle Adobe’s programs really well, and seem to have drivers for every camera ever made. Next market along are people who make music, and the same thing applies: compared to old-school music recording and mixing gear, Macs are cheap as chips. Next market along is / was designers: design workstations used to cost multiple thousands, and with horrible screens. This is how pricing is supposed to be done: not by using the manufacturing cost as a benchmark and marking up to cover fixed costs and profit, but by charging less than the ridiculous prices your target market is paying to do on the existing kit what it can now do on your kit.

So the “Apple Tax” is now the “no compromise on quality or consistency” premium, and it’s got smaller. It’s now around £150. This has the effect of making people like me trade up to a Mac, or to trade down to whatever I can get for £400 but has a really good keyboard. Sadly, laptop keyboards are a prime thing to compromise on, and it takes a lot of search time to find one. I chose the Asus EEPC because I could test the keyboard in-store.

In the cafes of Soho, Shoreditch and Richmond-on-Thames, all I see are Macs. I see all brands of tatty Wintels being used by commuters on the train, and I assume these are supplied by work. When people buy a computer they are going to be using a lot, for themselves, they pay the premium.

I’m stalling buying the 11” Air pending just this kind of review and how long I can go on working with my Asus. If I had not had the accident, I would have spent £999 on the 13” Air and had the 11” already. I spent £400 (net) on the 13” and £749 on the 11”, which is of course the insurance excess of £150. So that’s what the accident cost.

Expensive water.

(PS: How’s this for an alternative? I don’t really need a computer: I need something that runs Evernote and has a keyboard that isn’t horrible to use. That would be an iPad Air with a Logitek keyboard. I have the iPad, so instead of buying the 11” Air, I bought a Canon inkjet colour printer and the keyboard. I’ve been promising myself the printer for an age. As a consumer, I am a total mystery to myself.)

Monday, 14 December 2015

Then and Now - Maybe

Thirty years ago my car was a second hand VW Polo with four-speed gears with carburettors, manual windows and manual steering. Now I have a second-hand Punto with fuel injection, power steering, five gears, power windows and central locking.

Twenty years ago, I had a 100Hz 22” Panasonic TV which was a monster, and a video recorder with slo-mo. Now I have a 28” Bravia LCD screen and Blu-ray player which give a picture vastly superior to the TV.

Twenty years ago I didn't even have a computer, and 64kps ISDN was considered pretty much the top end of data transmission. Now I have 8Mbps download broadband connecting a netbook, a desktop replacement Wintel, a Mac Air and an iPad Air. Apple, Google, Amazon, Dropbox and others are offering me more online storage for free than possibly existed in the whole world in 1980. I get free e-mail and calendering, and photo-editing apps for £1.49 that do things that would have been considered black magic twenty years ago.

Online banking? Amazing. Amazon? Fantastic.

Don't even get me started on how much better the coffee is than it was thirty years ago. There's simply no comparison between the food in restaurants either.

But...

Thirty years ago, I parked my car at 08:00 in an abandoned car park fifty yards from the station, and got a seat on the 08:15 train. Twenty years ago, I could use the station car park for £3 a day at 07:30, and still get a seat on the next train. Now, I park my car on the road half a mile from the station at 06:30. Parking anywhere near the high street is £10 a day. I can get a seat on the 06:41 or 06:45 trains, if I go any later, or take the fast trains, I will be squashed or standing.

The abandoned car park is now a block of partial-owner flats. The Blockbuster I could rent videos from is now a bathroom salesroom. Sure there’s a Tesco and a bunch of other shops where the old IBM offices and a bleak 1970’s concrete plaza used to be, but the Library doesn’t have books in it and I don’t use the shops.

Thirty years ago I shared an office and had a high-backed swivel chair. Now I pack my crayons and exercise books away at the end of the day and put them in a locker. There aren't enough desks for everyone who works in the building, deliberately, so people like me who need to be in every day have to get there early to make sure we get 'our' desk.

Thirty years ago I was about to hit the worst patch of my drinking, but at least I was getting laid now and again. Twenty years ago, I was two years sober. Now I'm an old-timer and I'm not sure I could actually let my guard down even if I was offered sex by an attractive woman. Attractive women are much more attractive than they were even twenty years ago, but there are way fewer of them, and the others are heavier, fatter, harder-faced and less feminine. There are a lot of those.

Now half of English women between 24 and 35 are overweight or worse, and the men aren't much better. By contrast, I'm in better physical shape than I was even thirty years ago, which is a tribute to the way the human body responds to resistance training. Hell, I'm in better shape than most of the kids in my office.

If you have a job that pays above third quartile wage; if you have your own lodgings; if the only debt you have is a mortgage; if you have positive cash flow over a year; if you aren't divorced and making child and spousal support payments; if you have your health and aren't chewing foul modern medicines; if you are able to exercise; if you can avoid junk culture; if you have friends who really are friends... then this is a better world than it was twenty years ago.

I’m not so sure how it is if you’re depending on Uber to pay your way, or a piece-work Amazon delivery courier, or a graduate looking for their first decent job; or if you’re thirty and still flat-sharing; or if you’re still paying off your student loan; or if you couldn’t replace the cooker or the TV if it broke without taking a payday loan… then I’m not so sure.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

November 2015 Review

The nights draw in and the SAD sets in. I’m pretty sure I started the month able to do assisted pull-ups (never you mind how much assistance) and ended it unable to even hang on the bars with the support because my left shoulder gave out cries of “leave me alone”. Yep, autumn injury time again. Suddenly weights that floated off the ground or into the air become impossible to even take off the rack. What a sensible person does is get to their favourite Sports Masseur, and what I do is leave it two weeks. I had the first session on the last Wednesday of the month. And I accepted that I was injured, backed down on the weights and did the “show up and lift what you can” routine. This ensures that I do some exercise so that when it’s all sorted out, I don’t have to spend a month getting back up to where I was. The ability to do this is one of them many signs of superior moral fortitude that separates Them from Us.

I read Duel at Dawn by Amir Alexander; Mary-Jane Rubenstien's Worlds Without End: the Many Lives of the Multiverse; Sex Criminals, vol 2 by Matt Fraction; re-read John Horgan’s The End of Science; Pedro Ferreira’s The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity; Robert Glover’s No More Mr Nice Guy; Busy by Tony Crabbe; The Whitehall Manderin by Edward Wilson; Somerset Mauham’s Cakes and Ale; Deborah Davis’ Strapless; and Vaughn / Harris’s Ex Machina v1. I always think I’ve never read anything.

On DVD I saw Southland S1 and S2; Penny Dreadful S1; Braquo S1 and S2. At the movies I saw Spectre at the Odeon Leicester Square; Black Souls; and Tangerine at the Renoir; and Burnt at the Curzon Victoria.

The Damn Thing After Another was spilling the absolute minimum amount of water on the top right-hand corner of my 11” Air to put it out of action. After some to-ing and fro-ing with the guys at Mac1 Spitalfields and my insurers, I upgraded myself to a 13” 256GB Air, which I bought from the Apple Store in Covent Garden. I was intending to do that anyway. It was a little disconcerting to find out how unsettled I was without my Mac, even though I had much of the functionality on my trusty but increasingly slow Asus netbook.

The Fun Thing was the annual Day To Make A Difference, where The Bank encourages us to do some work for charitable causes. It pays for the privilege as well, usually for materials, and gives those taking part a day out of the office they don’t have to make up with overtime. This year we went to a slightly run-down children’s day centre in Queenstown Road and gave the outside a thorough wash and brush up. Those who fancied themselves as handymen built a fence and gate - completed just in time - while others made something called a mud kitchen. Those who don’t regard themselves as handy, as I don’t, cleaned up the yard, and I swiped the pressure washer and got wet washing the paint, chalk marks and general dust and dirt off the outside of the building. It made a pleasing difference and squirting water all over the walls was fun. I didn’t quite the knack of angling the thing to minimise the wetness on my clothes. When I’d done that, I helped heft decorative gravel and then earth for some planters. I’d happily do two or three days a year like that: good labour and a visible result at the end.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Love is Conditional, Not Romantic

The single loudest-quacking canard in the entire therapy / self-help business is the idea that we can and should be loved "for who we are", unconditionally and despite our flaws.

I mean by “love” whatever feeling that makes you want to make serious and lengthy commitments of time, energy, support and resources to someone else, and care for and help them, and there must be sexual desire, and co-habitation or frequent contact. Absent the sex and frequent contact, and that’s “friendship”. Any other use of the word “love” is metaphorical on this core sense. Feel free to use your own word for what I’ve just described, and substitute it below.

You may feel love for a horrible shrew who refuses to have sex with you and disrespects you in public. But you really would be better off not doing that. Or to say the same thing another way: you should not do that. If you’re going to have those kinds of feelings, please have them towards a sane, attractive person who wants to have sex with you, spend time with you and feels the same way about you. If you must love awful people, do us all a favour and keep it unrequited.

We’re adults. We have bills to pay, a day-job to do, or clients to service; we have to buy and cook food, keep our lodgings in order, clean our clothes, exercise, keep up our social networks, and rest; we may have other people that we have to feed, spend time with and support. We don't have time to spend on losers, wasters and people who can't help us. Maybe if we were very rich we could or might need to, but we're not. Respect has to be earned, and love has to be deserved. (Desire is random, but has nothing to do with love, though love without desire is pretty bland stuff.)

Sensible adults have to do with people who can bring something to our table. Anything from jokes in return for sitting around shooting the breeze, to a straight exchange of money for professional services. There's always an exchange, because the other person is also a sensible adult who wants us to bring something to their table. This even applies to children: parents want their kids to grow up right (whatever that means wherever they are), be quiet when needed and not get into trouble, and in return the kids get fed, clothed, sheltered, trained, hugged and praised for their stick-man crayon drawings.

This is Life 101. Except in therapy-land. And if you've taken the Red Pill. Then it's treason to love someone for what they can do for you, instead of "who they are". Men love romantically, women love opportunistically. Men love the woman despite herself, women love what the man gives them (which could be anything from sick emotional involvement to an apartment in Monaco). Men love women, women love children, children love puppies. Who we love can never love us back. Women have an evolutionary-developed nature, and part of that is to regard men as resources to be exploited (the feminine imperative) to suit their needs (one of which is hypergamy). “Exploited” means that women expect men’s resources for free and don’t recognise reciprocal obligations nor feel the need to keep bargains. The core practical consequence is that as a man, you don't get a moment's rest in a relationship: you must prove it seven days a week, even in your sleep. Your wife and children are always going to be testing you and if you fail even one test, you will be consigned to a life of sexless irrelevance in your own house, which will no longer be your home, but a place you go to work to get away from. To prevent this from happening, you must be unblinkingly, unflinchingly Alpha, every second of every minute of every hour of every day of your life, and when you die, she will defile your memory, just to prove she can. That's how the Red Pill comes across. It's pretty darn bleak.

I don’t doubt for a moment that this describes the lives of a certain kind of men in relationships with certain kinds of women. Mostly men who are more occupied with their own thoughts and projects, who take up with women with the kind of family background, or genes, that produces shrews, bullies, drunks, addicts, narcissists, bi-polars, borderlines and other dysfunctionals, as well as the chronically insecure, cold or traumatised. These women are so badly damaged or just plain broken that no “Alpha” in the world can turn them into acceptable partners. These are the ill-advised partnerships that bring men to the Sphere.

In the ordinary world, the majority of women simply need to feel that they are being noticed, paid attention to, by their partners. This is a normal response when someone who is away from them, five days a week, for nineteen hours a day (eleven commuting and working, seven or so asleep, plus morning routine). Regular men understand this and take time to respond to her questions accordingly because they care. The guys who show up in the Sphere are probably a little more occupied with their own thoughts and less with the world around them, and treat those attention overtures as a nuisance. That's not a good feeling to give someone. Like Heartiste says, you must play with her mind, and if you don't, you're not going to have a good relationship.

Some people can't do math, others can't do backflips, and others can't lift really heavy weights. We don’t guilt-trip about that. Yet everyone is expected to do relationships, and if they can’t it’s considered a sign of a broken soul. It doesn’t matter if there’s a Just-So story to provide a rationalisation for that expectation or not. It doesn’t solve the problem. It's time we accepted that some people can manage long-term, live-in, high exit-barrier relationships, and others can't, and stopped expecting those who can't to suffer the costs of trying and failing. And it's time we focussed not on what's wrong with men, women or society, but on how to identify the walking disasters, and how we get our needs met whether we are wrapped up in our own projects or alive to the slightest emotional breeze from our partners.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Self-Improvement Without Motivational Myths

Pop therapists and other motivational writers rely on a number of core myths: the Integrated Man; the Intimate Relationship; the Meaningful Life; the Abundant Universe; and the Myth of Serendipity. These are counter-propaganda against the myths that the patient believes about themselves.

Integrated Man: the patient believes that they must hide their innermost thoughts and feelings, and pretend to be someone else, or to be the person that they think other people want them to be: the Myth of the Integrated Man tells them that they can be themselves and people won’t run away from them.

Intimate Relationship: The patient believes that no-one will love them, hear them, care about them, meet their needs (this is therapy-speak for sex), or help them in anything more than a transactional way: the Myth of the Intimate Relationship tells them that somewhere out there is someone, or a group of someones, who will fill that horrible emptiness with attention and love (and sex and cuddles).

Meaningful Life: The patient believes that they are doomed to a life of empty, unfulfilling day-job grind with accompanying commuting and maintenance work. They have half-formed dreams and plans, and interests and (often arty) abilities that are slowly rotting away in their soul. The Myth of the Meaningful Life tells them that if they identify and follow their passions, they will find a job, or clients, or an agent, or a gallery who will help them do work they find rewarding and fascinating and happy-making.

Abundance: The patient believes that there simply isn’t enough of the Good Stuff to go round, and that they won’t be there when it’s being dispensed. Other people get the good jobs, all the good women are already married, all the nice flats in reasonable parts of town are already taken, heck, they can’t even get a ticket for a concert. The Myth of Abundance tells them that, well, the Universe isn’t out to deny them anything, and in fact provides enough for everyone, even if you might have to be up earlier to get in the queue.

Serendipity: The patient believes that their life is in a rut, that nothing will ever change, that all doors are locked and all seats already taken. The Myth of Serendipity (Jung gets quoted a lot here) says that the Universe puts opportunities in our way all the time, if we could but see them, and that the important thing is to have goal towards which you are working, and that in and of itself will cause the Universe to swing stuff your way.

I'm not going to critique these myths for two reasons. First, because you know they are nonsense. Second, because these myths are not supposed to be descriptions of the world, but to help the patient shake off the despair, hopelessness and victimisation they often feel. If this happens over the short term, I can't really complain. However, these myths are a lot like pissing in your pants: it gives you an immediate warm feeling and leaves behind a mess. In three years' time the patient will be wondering what he's doing wrong, because he still isn't "getting his needs met" and he can't seem to find anyone to pay him enough for doing what he really likes to do.

Is there an alternative? Well, yes there is. Thou shalt (weight) lift. Thou shalt stop watching and reading junk culture, and read Great Books For Men instead. Thou shalt cut down on smoking and drink only when needed to chase after girls. If thy girlfriend has not consented to sex in the last month, thou shalt turn her out of thy dwellings, even as thou shalt take the day off to change the locks and put her possessions into storage. Thou shalt un-friend girls who tell you what a good friend you are but have sex with bad boys. Thou shalt smarten up thy wardrobe after thou hast lost fat and gained muscle. Thou shalt polish up thy CV, taking professional advice if needed, and post a summary on LinkedIn, and start to apply for jobs, because thou needest the interview practice. Then thou shalt apply for jobs where thou really wantest to work. Thou shalt try everything in an attempt to find something that thou likest to do. And thou shalt read Heartiste, and the London Daygamers. (But thou shalt steer clear of Roosh and his works as he's lost the plot, and neither shalt thou drink from the wisdom of Rollo, for it is nihilist in a manner that makes Nietzsche sound like your parish priest.) And thou shalt walk down the streets with thine head held high, and not give a damn that the previous evening thou didst rub one out to India Summer in a Kink.com video. For what else is a man to do when surrounded by the women that surroundest thou? And remember, the greatest of all these actions, on which all others are built, is lifting. Bro, thou shalt even lift.

In other words a proven programme of practical action. Allez en avant et la foi vous viendrez as someone French said (roughly, "Where your ass leads, your mind will follow"). Take away the toxic crap of pop culture, exercise your body and mind, eat right, and don't spend more than you can afford, and you will recover. If you have substance abuse problems, go to the relevant Anonymous. That too will have a program of practical action.

Will the world love you after this? Will you "get your needs met"? No. But you will care a whole lot less. Because you will be living a whole lot better.

Which brings us to the third and final part: Red Pill nihilism.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

No More Mr Nice Guy

(This mini-series was inspired by reading Robert Glover's Nice Guys Finish Last, which you don't have to pay to read if you know where to look. This is Part One.)

Robert Glover’s book is one of the underground references for the Sphere, along with Deida’s The Way of the Superior Man, Mystery’s The Mystery Method and Warren Farrell’s Why Men Are The Way They Are (or you can choose another of his). Glover is a therapist and while the book was published in 2000, he says it was written over a period of six years, and so is based on therapeutic ideas from the early 1990’s.

The Nice Guys you think he’s talking about are regular Joes who always finish last and don’t get the girl. You would be wrong. Judging by the examples, the Nice Guys he’s really talking about are men from chronically dysfunctional families: alcoholic parents, extreme religiosity, absent and demanding fathers, emotionally exploitative mothers. These kinds of dysfunctions have a number of effects, from pre-teen drug use to adaptive behaviours (controlling, rescuing, people-pleasing, retreating into fantasy, or focussing on study or sports training) that help the young man manage his life. As a result, he will have no idea how to deal with regular people, who will feel uncomfortable with the way he handles them, even if they don’t know why, and he will have acting-out or compulsive behaviours. These aren’t regular Joes at all, but they do tend to finish towards the back of the field and certainly don’t get the girls they want, and they do tend to come across as manipulative and unsympathetic.

Very few people are going to pick up a book about those people. But tell them it’s the fault of feminism, absent fathers, 9-5 commuting from suburbs and a truly awful lack of male teachers (this is an American book), nod to Robert “The Drummer” Bly and initiation ceremonies, and you can make it seem that it’s about people who might not be going to Anonymous meetings. Well, it isn’t.

Glover is a married therapist (who therefore doesn’t have the armour of an MD or PhD) who practices in the USA. He must therefore impose upon his patients a highly vanilla flavour of the ideal life.

Discussing his idea of the Integrated Man he promises that you won’t be ashamed of your wants, needs, desires, faults, prejudices, bad skin and tendency to fart after eating broccoli. Much more than this, he promises that people will respond more favourably to your open presentation of yourself, than to the fearful, managed and bowdlerised version you are currently presenting. Ah. Except. When he said “wants, needs and desires” he didn’t mean the cocaine, pornography, booze, promiscuity, over-eating and debt-financed consumer status purchases… you understood that, right? He meant the natural needs and wants and desires. And you should probably keep your anti-Diversity and other non-PC opinions to yourself in working hours and around minorities (like women) at any time. Also could you not eat broccoli anymore? Because, you know, farting? Gross? So when you read it that way, of course everyone likes your Integrated Man - because there’s nothing to dislike about it.

The Protestant Work Ethic gets in via the idea of living a Meaningful Life, in which you Follow Your Passions and do something interesting. As a job, of course. The idea that you might just take a day job to pay some minimal bills and then go live your life afterwards? No. You will be a productive member of the economy and society and work hard in your dream industry or with your dream skills. That is, after all, what it means to have a meaningful life. Right?

The second most lunatic moment (the most lunatic moment involves something called “healthy masturbation” and is a real hoot) is the Pop Quiz about sexual guilt, where he wants us to believe that there are people who: a) had a “joyous" first sexual experience which they could share with family and friends; b) talk openly and comfortably with their partner about masturbation; c) are comfortable revealing everything about their sexual experiences, thoughts or impulses with their partner. Failure to agree with any of this means you have sexual guilt. Seriously? How about the idea that for the men he’s talking about, it would be incredibly unwise to reveal anything that could be used as ammunition against them, because that’s what frakked-up partners do to each other. Nope, in Glover’s world, all partners are trustworthy, broad-minded, experienced, and generally all-round cool. Yeah, right. And who, in the name of all that's realistic, ever had a "joyous" first sexual experience? Nobody. Ah, which means we all need to buy his book or be his clients. Badabob badabpoom, all the way to the bank. Listen, a guy has to make a living.

He is right to point out that Frakked-Up Guys do tend to believe that If I can hide my flaws and become what I think others want me to be, then I will be loved, get my needs met, and have a problem-free life. It doesn’t work like that. But then, neither do his suggestions. At best, his advice will help some men shake off their false assumptions. But Glover doesn’t really have anything but the usual inspirational fantasies to put in their place, and I'll discuss what those are and what should go in their place later.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Richmond Lock, November Afternoon


Like it says in the title. I took last week off. The weather was mostly awful, so I did a lot of reading and box sets, plus the odd venture outside. This was after lunch in Richmond when I had half-an-hour to run out on my parking, so I took a quick stroll down to the river.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

A Red-Pill Self-Improvement Documentary?

A few weeks ago I read about Cassie Jaye’s Kickstarter (closed way overfunded on 11th November) for her documentary on the Men’s Rights Movement, and my first thought was that maybe I should pitch in. To the great annoyance of salesmen everywhere I never act on first thoughts when it involves money or women. I gave it a while and then understood why I was hesitating.

MRA isn't my fight. I'm a lifetime bachelor with no children, and much MRA is about the inequities of Family Law. I live in the UK, and outside a few universities, we don't have the problems with PC crazies that the USA and Canada do. Our Family Law system is designed to reduce the potential burden on taxpayers (me) of divorced mothers with little or no value as employees, which has nothing to do with misandry. British politicians are masters of the conflict-dissolving legislative gesture, and have more or less dissolved feminism, leaving behind some click-bait mavens and privileged white women whose rhetoric fools nobody. I think the MRAs are right: it can suck real bad to be a man, especially if you can’t spot a bad woman from their body language and attitude. It lacks sympathy to say so, but a lot of MRA problems arise because the man either didn’t have an Early Warning System or didn’t listen to it.




(Press play for this immortal quote from The Friends of Eddie Coyle)

Men don't need "awareness raised" about their "issues". They need to identify their mistakes and to carry the message. They need to set an example to other men. And when the young ones who didn’t take the advice are mangled by redundancy, accident, illness, crazy women, divorce, social services, the Family Courts, or are simply abandoned by the love of their lives, then men need to be there to provide emergency services.

There are people who carry some of the message. It's a dirty job. Analysing feminist propaganda to lay bare the deceptions, distractions and the underlying messages and demands is cultural sewage maintenance. Someone has to expose, day after day, the lies and distortions in feminist propaganda, and fight back with snappy one-liners. Over and over and over and over. This is a propaganda war. And from Heartiste, and Rollo Tomassi, through Terence Popp, to the men who run blogs reviewing TV and comic series for excessive Blue Pill content, there are plenty of propagandists out there. I appreciate the work they do. Because I was a newbie once.

What we don’t have a lot of is the self-improvement stuff. There’s Danger and Play, and Mark Manson, and a few more. Most of what’s out there is Game. There’s a lot of fraudulent stuff - The Good Man Project and The Art of Manliness to name two - and what is almost everything ever written on diet and nutrition (as opposed to the chemistry of food) except proof that PhD’s write bro science too? There are handy little books on how to be reasonably stylish - my favourites are Mr Jones’ Rules for the modern man and (don’t mock me) The Metrosexual Guide to Style as well as the utterly authoritative Gentleman by Bernard Roetzl and personally I like a lot of what John LeFevre says. But if there’s a good book on daily nutrition, I’ve yet to find it, though I liked Power Eating and if you’re even thinking about re-decorating your flat, you can’t be without Home is Where the Heart Is but at this point you may feel I’m over-reaching.

Perhaps a self-improvement blog or book feels too prescriptive for the Sphere, or perhaps it just feels too simple. How much is there to say about this stuff? Or perhaps there’s a fear that it will slide into Mens Health at one extreme or Fantastic Man at the other. Or that it will be over-whelmed by “bro, do you even lift?” comments. Or that it will need a team right from the start, because one person can’t cover this stuff. Anyway...

As for a Red Pill film? I’d like to see a documentary about, say, four men in their early forties who got reamed. They are out of shape, don’t have any social life, can’t dress worth a damn, can’t cook and have even less Game than me. Over the next eighteen months, we see them follow a workout / eat right / quit smoking / dump the junk culture / travel / try hobbies until you find one you like / learn Game. It would be nice, but not essential if one dropped out early and carried on being a self-pitying, overweight drunk whining about missing his kids. It would be amazing if one actually pulled a twenty-something hottie and was in a stable Red Pill relationship. Maybe one turns into a decent boring citizen who occasionally meets women but now finds them way too entitled and selfish, and the other decides to put his efforts into a business. The Red Pill helps them understand what they did wrong and how they need to change their thinking about relationships. But what the film is about is how men can always re-invent themselves and their lives.

Because that’s true. God knows I’ve done it about four or five times.

Monday, 16 November 2015

10cc: I’m Not In Love

It was number one for two weeks in 1975, but it got mad airplay. Wikipedia has a nice story about how it came to be written and almost never released. I recall someone in the NME at the time describing it as “a portrait of total alienation”.

It was more than that. It said that even if we were in love, we couldn’t admit it, and even when we did, it would have to be ironic and downbeat, as keeping her picture upon the wall, because “it hides a nasty stain that’s lying there”. It said that love was something that you suffered and had to be hidden, and was best denied.


The song sold gazillions and won all sorts of awards. Because it hit a truth: that the world was changing and love was no longer a joy and the best reason for living, but a liability and an embarrassment.

Of course it could be spun as irony rather than alienation, but this was the 70’s. We weren’t ironic back then. We were alienated. And this was the song that changed the way an entire cohort of young people thought about love.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

The Many Live of the Multiverse

What is it about cosmology that turns clever people's brains to mush? Well, some of them they think that if they can't come up with a good idea, then the religious fundamentalists will claim that God is behind it all. And only a handful of people notice that believing in a Creator God does not mean that you have to buy the Old and New Testament, the Koran, beards, niqabs, circumcision, and every last condemnation of your local rabbi, priest, parson or mullah. That's just what Richard Dawkins and your local mullah want you to believe.

The alternative to a scientific theory isn't a few verses in the Bible, it's another scientific theory. And if there isn't one, then the scientific community needs to invent three. Unanimity is not a sign of truth, it's a sign that your scientists aren't imaginative enough, or that you need to get the dogmatists off the grants committee.

Another reason is that people get far too emotionally involved in their cosmological theories. They shudder at the infinity of space, or at the idea of the universe turning into a luke-warm sludge. And then they get horribly confused over some philosophical points. The result of this confusion, emotional involvement and the feeling that they are responsible for keeping the lunatic fundamentalists from the door, are mutliverses, Big Bangs and the Many-Worlds theory, surely the most lunatic piece of nonsense ever to be taken seriously by people much smarter than me.

We live on the planet Earth, The Solar System, The Milky Way, The Universe. Most modern theories of cosmology want to give The Universe a postcode as well: The Multiverse GH23 7FF. Except there's a lot of universes in a multiverse and the post-code would be a lot longer.

It seems it's important to us to know how the universe got started, or if it was always here and always will be. Nothing hangs on this: of all the things we could know, it's about the most useless. Large numbers of people don't even know who their father is, and they get on kinda okay.

Is there something outside "the universe"? No. Because otherwise it wouldn't be the universe. Was there something before it and will there be something after it? No. Because ditto. Might the bit of the universe that we see not be all of the universe? Undoubtedly. Could there be places elsewhere in the universe we can't see where robins have green breasts? Depends how important red breasts are to your definition of a robin. Could there be places in the universe where conservation laws don't arise as a symmetry through Noether's Theorem? Now, that's an interesting question. Is there an inaccessible part of the universe where energy isn't conserved? I'd go with a NO on that, but I'm open to argument. Maybe energy could just vanish, but not be created.

But General Relativity says the Big Bang, doesn't it? It's not compulsory. There are all sorts of solutions to the equations, but the equations can't tell us which solutions actually apply to this universe. Only the initial conditions can, and there's a lot of ambiguity in those.

But fine-tuning and the Anthropic Principle? Stop it. Just like God is not the answer to where the universe came from, nor are zillions of universes the answer to why we all got stuck in this one. Fine-tuning is how we know the laws of nature we're using are about right, and say that an interesting universe can only really be made one way.

Laplace spent a long time thinking he had to prove the Solar System was stable or there was something wrong with the whole edifice of Newtonian Dynamics. Well, now we know there's no reason it should be stable. Now people think they have to prove that the universe is always going to look something like it does now. But it won't. It will look exactly what it is going to look like.

Leverrier spent a long time trying to find Vulcan so he could get rid of Mercury's anomalous perihelion. A lot of people are now trying to find Dark Matter and Dark Energy so they can fix some galactic rotations. Does anyone else smell a generous helping of ad-hoc here? If Newtonian Dynamics needed a planet that wasn't there, or a fine adjustment to the inverse power, to be right, then it was wrong. And if General Relativity plus cosmological constants and simplifying-assumptions-so-we-can-calculate-anything-in-the-first-place needs dark energy and dark matter, well, then, it's wrong. And if we can only understand Quantum Field Theory via a Many-Worlds theory, then we just don't understand Quantum Field Theory either.

Until we do, and until someone comes up with a better General Relativity, I guess we're still going to get more whacky cosmology that in a couple of hundred years' time will read like Aristotle does now.

Monday, 9 November 2015

October 2015 Review

I’m an alcoholic. I’m glad I’m sober. I really don’t want to have the hangovers and bad decisions and behaviour anymore. I’m also an ACoA / co-dependent and I do not attract healthy women and I am attracted by dysfunctional women. In the past, when I was good-looking, we would at least have some sex before the dysfunction pushed us apart. Also I didn’t know about all that stuff, so I didn't know I was getting involved with messed-up women. Now I do know how to identify that stuff, and we don’t get to the sex because I look for the warning signs instead of concentrating on getting her into bed. I’m conflicted here. I am really glad I’m not involved with the post-Wall, Alpha Widow, dysfunctional, emotionally-unavailable women who are, if I’m honest, pretty much all that’s available to me now. But I miss the adventure around the sex. Every now and then, that hits me. I get sad and sour. Every now and then, the sheer lack of physically and emotionally attractive women in this town leaves me feeling close to hopeless. And then it passes and I get back into a groove.

That’s what October has been about. Possibly because it's the month of my AA birthday. I have 22 years sobriety. Shit. But then one reason I have is that I count my sobriety as starting every day I wake up. Sobriety has no memory.

I read Mark Fisher's Capitalist Realism and Ghosts of my Life; Jeremy Gray's Plato's Ghost: The Modernist Transformation of Mathematics; finished George Cole's The Last Miles: The Music of Miles Davis 1980 - 1991; looked through a hefty chunk of Gelman et al's Bayesian Data Analysis; Mark Kurlansky's City Beasts; Robert Greene's Concise 48 Laws of Power; and Adam Warren's Empowered vol 2.

On DVD I watched the whole Arne Dahl series, and the whole of the Unit One series. At the cinema I saw Red Army at the Renior; The Lobster and Macbeth at the Curzon Soho; and Sicario at the local Cineworld.

I went to the Ai Weiwei exhibition at the RA, followed by supper a conveyer-belt sushi bar in Soho. Talking of food, Sis and I had supper at Tay Do on the Kingsland Road, and I discovered Mas Q Menos in Soho, which is now my go-to place to have a two-course supper if I have time to spare.

The highlight of the month was a wedding (!) in central London between an ex-colleague and her entrepreneur boyfriend. This required wearing a tuxedo, which I haven't done in decades. I left when the dancing started: it was 10:15 and I had to get back to the car at Kew Gardens station.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

The Anthropic Principles as Categoricity Proofs

The Standard Model of particle physics has a number of physical constants which need to be determined by measurement and don't seem to predicted by any more fundamental theories. These are: the charge of an electron, the ratio of electron mass to proton mass (the 137 figure), the gravitational constant, the cosmological constant and a couple of others.

One of the many things that puzzles philosophically-inclined scientists is that there's not a lot of wiggle room for these constants. If the charge on the electron (and hence proton) is a lot higher, then electrons will bind so tightly to the nucleus that chemical reations won't happen. If the cosmological constant isn't 1.0 to a lot of decimal places, the universe would have a) expanded to quickly, or b) failed to expand at all. And so on. The puzzle is: how is it that this universe got created, with the fundamental constants at just the right values to create Nobel prize-winners, and not some other values that created a boring universe?

Something like this happens in mathematics. If you want an algebraically-complete (so that all polynomials of degree n have n roots) set of numbers which is also order-complete (so that every convergent sequence of numbers has a limit) that forms a field, then you can have the complex numbers. Or.... you can have the complex numbers. And if you want something different... you can't. Those requirements can be satisified only by the complex numbers and there's even a proof of it. Strictly, all models of those requirements are isomorphic. The theory is categorical - in second-order logic.

Mathematicians are not puzzled by this. In fact, they are rather pleased by it. The reason they aren't puzzled by it is because they have a proof of the uniqueness of the complex numbers. In all universes, and all civilisations, all algebraically-closed, complete number fields are isomorphic to the complex numbers. Why? Becuase proof.

To me, the lack of wiggle-room for the fundamental constants feels very similar. It says something like this: if we build a universe where the stable particles are electrons, neutrons, neutrinos, protons and photons (an e2n2p universe) then unless the fundamental constants are very close to the values in this universe, you get a boring universe. Why? Because proof.

The puzzle isn't about the values of the fundamental constants. It's why this universe is an e2n2p universe, and if there might be other ways of building molecules that don't use atoms made up of electrons, protons, neutrons, neutrinos and photons. What needs to be proved is: all universes must be e2n2p-universes or be boring.

You're going to remind me that there are quarks which make up neutrons and protons. Also other short-life hadrons, and muons, which also have short lives. For my purposes that doesn't matter. How the stable particles in a universe are constructed, or perhaps we should say, how the stable particles in a universe break down under high-energy collisions, isn't relevant. What's relevant is that the stable particles are what they are.

The Anthropic Principles are really a statement that a certain kind of theory is in a (possibly metaphorical) sense categorical. So what's really interesting is: can we build another universe out of stable particles that aren't isomorphic to the ones in this universe? And if we can, how much wiggle room is there for the values of the relevant fundamental constants? My guess is that, even if we can find an non-isomorphic set of fundamental particles, there won't be much wiggle-room.

(An "isomorphic set of particles"? Either treat it as a metaphor, or remember that fundamental particles correspond to generators of groups. So it would be the groups that were isomorphic.)

Monday, 2 November 2015

Commitment Isn’t A Gate You Can Keep

There’s a Sphere phrase that everyone repeats: women are the gatekeepers of sex, men are the gatekeepers of commitment. Everyone nods wisely. Except it’s not true.

Once the sex you’re having with her is done, she gets to decide if there’s going to be a next time. And she gets to stop you half-way through. She’s a doorman at a nightclub: just because you get in Wednesday night, doesn’t mean you’ll make it in Saturday night. That’s what being a gatekeeper means.

But once you’ve committed, you don’t get to throw her out if she misbehaves. She gets to throw you out if you misbehave. There’s no re-considering, there’s no natural break that gives you the chance to say NO to further commitment. Commitment isn’t a gate: it’s a leap over the cliff.

What men keep the gates of is attention, excitement, arousal and status.

In the past there was an option b): provisioning, attention, care and support. However, women can get jobs, and they get paid more than a man does for the same job. If they can’t get jobs, they can get welfare. If they lose their job, they can find another one faster than a man can. Men stopped being the gatekeepers of provisioning a long, long time ago.

Women are the gatekeepers of sex. Men are the gatekeepers of attention.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Learning from Fitbit Food Tracking

I’ve had a couple of chats about fitness trackers and the real benefits of a Fitbit. Tracking what I eat is one of them, even if it feels a little obsessive at the start. Taking photos of bar codes to get the nutritional information turns out to be slightly cool.

The trick for the first couple of months is not to use the calorie counter to control what you eat, but to be honest in recording it and hence understand what you’re eating and how you feel when you do.

I got a cold and saw exactly what I’ve always suspected. My calorie intake goes up, I eat more biscuits and chocolate and my exercise goes down. Colds make me put on weight, or at least stop me losing it. It lasted a fortnight, and I can see it in the colour of the calorie counter target icons: green and red instead of yellow and green (yellow means I’ve eaten even less than my 500 calorie deficit).

Understanding must, of course, lead to action. So in the morning a single Penguin (106 calories) has replaced the cellophane pack of Belvita biscuits (220 calories), and a home-made sandwich (220 calories or so) has replaced something from Pret (400 calories or more). The ingredients (bread, ham) of the sandwiches costs as much as one Pret sandwich. So there’s a financial saving here as well.

I’m trying to find lighter lunches. I find an Itsu sushi plus a Miso soup, at around 400 calories, is a little light and slightly bland, whereas a Square Pie is tasty but has silly calories – because pie means pastry and pasty means calories: 620 for the steak and kidney. There’s a Crepe Affaire in Spitalfields Market which does a few reasonable savoury crepes. I suspect that if I didn’t eat the bread on a salt beef at the Lower Eastside Deli in Shoreditch that would take lunch back to around 400 calories. (It is at least solid meat, so more filling than the Itsu.)

The afternoons between 3 and 4 are my bugbear. I need something. My senses are bored, and I’m slumping. (If I go straight home, I fall asleep on the train.) I've been having a yoghurt and maybe tea or coffee and a Kit-Kat. A mess: useless caloires. Fruit doesn’t do it. Maybe the mistake I’m making is thinking that food will pick me up, and it won’t. Perhaps I need to schedule some routine stuff for that hour that I can bash out to pass the time.

I’m right now trying a couple of pieces of dark chocolate. Maybe I need something sweet at lunchtime instead of all that dreary protein and carbohydrate. Ice cream, for instance. That is well-known to be medicinal. Perhaps I have a starter and dessert at Canteen, instead of fish-and-chips. It’s worth a try.

Losing weight, I’ve had problems with constipation, which is what happens when you don’t eat enough fibre. Also, I think porridge on a regular basis doesn’t help this either, as it is soluble fibre and doesn’t help with bulk. So my evening meal is a full-of-fibre root-vegetable stew with added Polish sausage and some grated cheese. It gets cooked in bulk, and four servings get put in plastic containers and stored in the fridge.

We singles tend to eat the same meal at least twice in succession, and sometimes four times. It’s all very virtuous, except the Penguins, and I suspect I need to add some variety to it, probably from a restaurant at least once a week.

Monday, 26 October 2015

What to do with a £35m Rembrandt

The Trustees of Penrhyn Castle recently sold a Rembrandt portrait for £35m to a foreign buyer. The export license has been temporarily withheld to allow a UK institution to raise the money. More details can be found at Bendor Grosvenor’s excellent site.

If a bunch of private and wealthy individuals want to stump up £35m for the painting, by all means let them. If a bunch of charities want to, they must consider if there aren’t better uses of the money. Unless their aims are pretty much limited to “financing old estates by the purchases of assets from those estates” the chances are that there will be better uses of the money. “Better” here meaning “more closely aligned with the purposes of the charity”.

The real question is: under what circumstances can the tax-payer be rightly asked to stump up enough money to build several hundred homes for nurses and teachers, just so a canvas can go on hanging in a castle hundreds of miles from anywhere? “Sentiment” is not an acceptable answer. “Because otherwise the taxpayer would be stumping up for regional subsidies that they don’t have to now because tourism generated by the canvas” is an acceptable answer.

Art has two sources of economic value: its price to a buyer; and the NPV of the cash flows it generates as an exhibit. When art can’t be sold – as for example the Rothkos at the Tate Modern – its economic value is in its drawing power and the ability of the museum to extract money from visitors. (So those Rothkos at the Tate really aren’t worth the $200m or so that his auction prices would suggest.) If a buyer is willing to pay way more than the exhibit value, the seller is getting a good deal. I don’t know how much money Penrhyn makes, but it can’t be enough if they’re thinking about selling a Rembrandt.

The Rembrandt is worth £35m to the mystery buyer, because the buyer gets to enjoy it and whatever other benefits it brings. It is quite likely that ownership of a painting like that could lead to deals that would easily yield more than £35m. It is quite unlikely that anything like that much would gained if the painting remains in a castle in deepest Wales. It is not worth £35m to the taxpayer. Or to any kind of consortium.

But it is worth £35m of other people’s money to the Trustees of Penryhn. (Or £22.5m after tax, according to Grosvenor.) In fact, it’s worth any amount of other people’s money. Anything is. What the Trustees are really after is having their cake, the Rembrandt on the wall, and eating it, £22.5m in the bank to pay for the roof.

Nope. If they want the money, they can let the Rembrandt go to where it can do some good: the National Gallery, or the NPG. Or they could start renting it out for exhibitions and charge a decent rate for it.

But but but.... isn't the value of Art above mere grubby money? Shouldn't we keep it because Heritage and The Nation?

Art is not an essential part of our national identity, like, say, secure borders and a requirement that all dealings with British government organisations (social security, for instance) are done in English. (But I digress.) Art is, for all the attendance figures at museums and the queues of young foreign students at the Tate Modern, a minority occupation that takes a fair amount of reading, looking and changes of mind to appreciate. Also money. Art books aren’t as expensive as statistics text-books, but they aren’t cheap either. Art is not a spiritual substitute for religion, though we may get spiritual feelings from the contemplation of certain works. Neither is the mere looking at art a form of self-improvement: that comes with the discipline of learning and appreciating more. If you think that simply looking at art is improving, just examine the faces of all those young foreign students being dragged round the Tate Modern.

That's not the argument to keep the Rembrandt in the UK.  The argument is that it is more valuable at Penrhyn than it is in some mansion in Dubai or Peking. Because the setting adds, or subtracts, to the experience of seeing the painting. Old Masters make more sense in old castles than they do in new starchitect buildings.

So how about this, which I think Dr Grosvenor suggests as if it would never happen. How about we sell the Rembrandt, but it has to stay in Penrhyn? The owners can let it travel and keep the income, and they can pay the insurance as well. They get a bunch of private viewing days at the castle. And of course, they can sell it on. Under the same conditions.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

What Really Motivates Me

I exercise and eat right because I’m scared that my blood-sugar may once again be 8 to 9 mmol / Litre, and I don’t want to turn into a fat, shapeless old man

I want to stay employed because I don’t want to be poor, and I don’t want to be made to work a zero-hours minimum wage job

I stay sober because I never want to be a self-pitying drunk again

I try to get seven hours’ sleep because I don’t want to go through the day tired and in danger of dozing off at my desk

I keep the house clean and neat because I don’t like mess and chaos

I read serious books and keep up with my bits of art and culture because I don’t want to have my brain turn to mush

I stay at the organisational level I’m at because I don’t want to do the jobs a grade higher

I don’t want you to expect anything of me, because I might not be able to do it

I don’t want any favours because I have no way of returning them: I have no contacts or useful skills

This just about covers every waking hour of my week.

What’s missing here?

Monday, 19 October 2015

Symphony In Grey - Broadgate Tower

So let's get a little Whistler on yo'ass with the titles here.



I've been doing a little more with my life than this, but it's all in Latek and I can't get Blogger to display that very well.

Also, it's been the week of my AA birthday, and that's always a little emotional. Twenty-two years sober, one day at a time. It's easy to think that sobriety is some kind of given after so long, and so it's no big deal, and that dealing with life is just a walk in the park. Well, it isn't. Every night I get to bed sober is another win. And I can forget that.


Thursday, 15 October 2015

September 2015 Review

The month started with a grand signing ceremony of powers of attorney at my solicitors, about which I wrote in the August review, though it happened at the start of in September.

I saw Transporter Refuelled at Cineworld; Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Cartel Land, Irrational Man, 99 Homes, Life at the Curzon Soho; A Girl at my Door and The Forecaster at the Renoir; and Legend at the Curzon Mayfair. I’ve now grasped that all the good movies come out in autumn, hence the sudden rush after months of me moaning about there being nothing on.

I read Do No Harm, by Henry Marsh; Magnus Resch’s The Management of Art Galleries; Maurice Mashall’s book on Bourbaki; Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, by Robert M. Sopolsky; Faraday, Maxwell and the Electromagnetic Field, by Nancy Forbes and Basil Mahon; David Deida’s The Way of The Superior Man; Nat Hentoff’s Four Jazz Lives; Ralf Kromer’s Tool and Object: A History of Category Theory; and large chunks of the Bottazzine/Gray Hidden Harmony- Geometric Fantasies: The Rise of Complex Function Theory. Plus I made an effort at Sloterdijk’s You Must Change Your Life, and gave up.

Record of the month at Rough Trade was an extract from Has Richter’s Sleep. Noisy guitar band CD was from The Pretty Reckless. I think I may have downloaded Halestorm’s Into The Wild Life as well.

It was sort out the A/W look time. I have been going with cotton or wool casual shirts, but decided I was tired of it, and the cut didn’t, ahh, present my figure to best advantage. So I was looking up and down Regent Street and Long Acre for ideas. After a while it became, looking for anything that wasn’t black or grey. Ever try on a jacket and know you’re going to buy it before it’s even settled on your shoulders? From Hackett as well. But it’s perfect. And I’ll be wearing it on all informal occasions for the next two years. That jacket, a tee-shirt and chinos is my new casual look. Add a scarf and gloves if it gets colder.

I had lunch at Sketch, which is an experience. You have to go there just to see the toilets. It really is like something out of a 1960’s science fiction movie. Supper at Picture, where Josh the barman now makes amazing virgin cocktails based on the vaguest of suggestions from me. Mas Q Menos is my current go-to place for after-training-on-Sunday supper: the tapas are just the right size, it has a pleasant atmosphere, and Spanish service, which means they don’t rush you and a couple of hours can pass quite easily.

Back at the start of August I had supper with some old friends on Sunday evening, so saw the movie in the afternoon, then went training, and then to supper. This worked out rather well, and does solve the problem of passing time between leaving the gym at (say) 10:45 and the start of a film at (say) 14:00. So I’ve done that a few times, and it works well.

One other thing went on in the month, but I’ll write about that later.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Waterloo Sunrise

As long as I gaze on a Waterloo sunrise / I am in paradise.



Friday 9th October 07:40. Every second unit crew charged with getting pictures of London should have been there. So should every serious photographer looking for stock shots. Instead me and a dozen others with out iPhones were there to record one of the most spectacular sunrises I’ve seen from Waterloo Bridge.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Walking To Krasnoyarsk (2)

The story isn’t about walking to Krasnoyarsk, a town I picked simply on the sound of its name and its remote location. If I had chosen Aberdeen or Cape Town, there may be people who would regard the thought of walking there as quite pleasant, and the point of the story would have been lost.

There are things that happen in our lives that have long-running consequences and change the way we deal with the world. Bereavement, sustained unemployment, debilitating illness, malicious accusations, nasty divorces, personal bankruptcy, addiction, prison sentences, long-running legal cases – to name just a few. These threaten, or actually ruin, our finances, career, reputation, skills, assets, wealth, health, and even our bodily integrity.

Sometimes, surviving one of these events changes us. We have to focus on one goal to the exclusion of almost everything else. Ordinary life, whatever we thought that was, fades into the background. At some point we stop feeling anything about our situation. We can’t afford it. We won’t get get through this if we carry on feeling self-pity, or loneliness, or abandonment, or sorrow, or fear, or uncertainty. And to feel anything else would be insanity. So we feel nothing about ourselves. We have feelings within and from ourselves: we are hungry, tired, weary, footsore, cold, wet or thirsty. But these are feelings as information, not feelings as emotions. And we silence the thoughts and feelings about other people and what they do. We ran out of the energy for that in the first week. They can help us or not. If they do, we thank them and don’t ask why. If not, we shrug and don’t think about it.

Thinking about how we might be living, and how everyone else we know is living, if this thing hadn’t happened, becomes almost painful. We want it to stop hurting when we remember what we used to do, and the only way to do that is to stop remembering that it was enjoyable. We cut the link between what we did and the pleasure it brought, and so save ourselves the pain of missing that pleasure, and the fear of never feeling it again. What we don’t know is that the link can’t be re-made: the psychic surgery is permanent.

When we get back, we try to re-establish our old lives. After all, isn’t that what we were going back for? It is then we find that the psychological changes we made can’t be undone. We can go to the leaving drinks, or a dinner party, or a weekend away with the crew, or a match, but it isn’t the same. We can’t connect the event and the people with the pleasure anymore. On the surface we are as cheerful as we ever were, perhaps oddly, more so, and that is real, as are our polite manners, engagement with the economy and interest in culture and sports. These things can be done with the head. Ask us how we are, what we’ve been doing at the weekend or on holiday, and you’ll get the sense that we don’t really seem remember what we do. Our day passes and is forgotten. What we did was just a way of passing the time that was better than watching some dumb TV show, but it wasn’t our life. We can go through the motions but we can’t feel the feelings. If belonging is about enjoying being there, we don’t belong anymore. Anywhere.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Walking To Krasnoyarsk (1)

Imagine you wake up somewhere you’ve never seen before. It’s cold and damp. There’s a lot of rain outside the window. The light is unfamiliar. So are the smells. There are people talking downstairs, and you recognise it as Russian. What are you doing in Russia? And where, exactly in the vast area where they speak Russian, are you? The people downstairs aren’t surprised to see you, but they don’t seem to know who you are. They give you some tea and bread. Eventually you find out you’re in a village two hundred miles from the nearest large town, Krasnoyarsk. You know enough to know that you are in the back end of nowhere. You can’t speak the language, you have some money but not much, and you still have a credit card but you have a distinct feeling that’s no use to you here. You get bars on your smartphone but no 3G, so you don’t have GPS or maps. Mostly you have no idea how to get back home. The people in the house draw a simple map that points you towards the main road and the next village. There’s no public transport, no trains until Krasnoyarsk, and they have work to do today. Just before you leave, one of them gives you a piece of paper and you gather you should show this to other people.

Over the next couple of days your friends, acquaintances, Linked In network and Facebook buddies learn that you are trudging through the rain in Siberia. They don’t know how you got there. You can’t explain it, because nobody ever knows how they wind up heading for Krasnoyarsk through the rain. Some of them think it’s a crazy stunt, some of them can’t even understand it, and the few who have a sense of what may be happening are worried. They looked up Krasnoyarsk on a map, and when they did, their hearts sunk. They knew you were in the middle of a wasteland.

None of them have the resources to send a helicopter or a rescue party for you. Many are in debt, with children to feed and mortgages to pay. None of them know anyone in Russia they could call to help you. After a very short time, even the most well-meaning are reduced to platitudes about “hanging in there”, “reaching out to people”, “at least it’s not snowing”, and how they are praying for you. Some of them do a calculation like this: it’s two hundred miles, at 3 miles an hour for eight hours a day, he’ll be there in less than two weeks. Anyway, someone must be passing with a car or lorry who will give him a lift. That makes them feel a lot better. But it’s three hundred miles allowing for the curves in the road; and you can’t walk for four of the hours because when it gets hot, it gets too hot to keep up that pace, there’s nowhere to buy bottled water, and you’re not a Marine, but an office worker, and walking that far every day for a week turns out to be exhausting and painful. And outside the towns, Siberia has one person per three square kilometres. There are no cars on the country roads.

Your friends put the phone down, go back to watching television and eating lunch. You go back to a damp room to try to sleep. You sense they are embarrassed because they can’t help: your calls are making them feel bad because they are reminded of how powerless they are. You went to all the office leaving drinks parties, and talked to everyone, getting drunker as the evening went on. With your single friends you went on weekends to Amsterdam or Barcelona or Copenhagen, where you rented flats and went to bars and clubs. Home or away, you and your friends would sit around until two and three on Sunday morning talking nonsense about life, philosophy, football, women, music and anything else, then crawl into bed and wake up in time for a shower, a cup of coffee and a trip to the restaurant for lunch. Your mobile buzzed several times an hour with messages and texts. One day on the road you start to miss all this, suddenly, you feel an emotional pain. As much as you enjoyed it, now it hurts when it isn’t there. For one afternoon, you sat unmoving, and felt how much you would be missing if you never got back. You walked that evening and night to make up for it.

And you decided you could not afford to think of life back home. Of how you would be living if you weren’t here. If you were going to survive, if you were going to get back home, you were going to have to think only about walking, and finding shelter and food, and resting when you needed to. You looked at the stars and understood for the first time how men could find their way by starlight. You don’t know the names of the birds here, but you realise you can hear the different songs. You are going to need to get whatever interest and enjoyment you can from the walk. You send one text a day to confirm you’re still alive and on your way. You stop doing that after the second week.

It takes weeks to get there. You thought it would be days: one long-distance lorry, one farmer needing to go to the town, and you would be there. But no. A few cars go by, some with families, some with businessmen, a few with partying kids, but none stop. Some even shout things like “Best thing I ever happened to me” or “Just be yourself and don’t get depressed – you’ll find someone to take you there”. Each night you find someone who looks at the piece of paper, shrugs, or grunts, or shakes his head, or says something that probably isn’t complimentary, but who lets you sleep on the floor anyway. You would help them, but they can see you aren’t a farmer and can’t help them.

Since that awful afternoon, all you think of is taking the next part of the journey to Krasnoyarsk. You don’t think about what you’re going to do when you get there. You stop anticipating anything, you stop wondering why nobody stops to offer you a lift, you stop wondering how you got to Siberia, you just think about walking. You learn to recognise when you need to rest, when you are about to faint, when you need to get shelter from the heat. You got smart enough to shelter from the first drop of rain in the first week. You don’t wish for better boots or clothes: you have to do with what you have, and wishing would make it worse. If it was winter, you would be dead by now, but it’s late spring, it gets hot during the day. It rains a lot around Krasnoyarsk in the spring. So you walk through flies, midges and god knows what else with wings and teeth that nip and for all you know can leave all sorts of poisons behind. If you get to the next village or farm, and find somewhere to sleep, and someone who offers food and tea, that is a successful day.

Eventually you get to Krasnoyarsk. You find a big hotel where they can take your credit card. You’re too tired to feel anything, and when you can use the hotel internet, you look at your bank account and realise that you’re on your overdraft. Your employer has stopped paying in your salary, but your landlord and everyone else are still taking out their charges. You have just enough money to get home, if you do it cheap. The concierge tells you there are three Aeroflot flights a day to Heathrow via Moscow. The prices are low and you snap up a ticket for tomorrow. You don’t bother telling anyone back home you’re in Krasnoyarsk at last, because it’s only another staging post. Your journey isn’t over. It isn’t over when you board the plane, and it isn’t over when you pass through immigration, and it isn’t over when walk through your own front door. Because you have the fall-out to deal with.

Your employer accepts your story, doesn’t think you’re crazy, is happy to take you back, but hey, you missed work and they won’t pay what you’ve missed, so you’re months in debt. It takes almost a year to get your debts paid and your overdraft cleared. When you see your friends and colleagues, there’s a slight awkwardness. Your very presence reminds them they couldn’t help you, that they were powerless while you were heading for Krasnoyarsk through the rain. You in turn had to forget about them and their lives so you could make it through another day. If there ever was a connection between you, it’s broken. You never do feel a wave of relief at being back home. Because you will always have something else to deal with. It’s no longer a relief. Everything and everybody is now something to deal with.

It puzzles you that strangers helped you on the way to Krasnoyarsk. One day you show someone who speaks Russian the piece of paper they gave you at the start of your journey. He reads it and looks at you with a mixture of pity and surprise. What does it say? you ask. He tells you it says: “this man is lost and has no friends. He is going to Krasnoyarsk. For the mercy of God help him if you can.”

Thursday, 1 October 2015

August - September Pictures



A bunch of photographs from the last few weeks. I’m still playing around with the software more than with, you know, an actual camera taking pictures, currently trying Sequential to look at the pictures (rather than Preview or Picasa) and a trial of Pixelmator to do basic editing on them. That combination is better than Picasa. The ‘Heal’ tool in Pixelmater is amazing - for those of us who haven’t made the jump to Lightroom (obscure Star Wars pun).

As ever, click to see all the glorious detail in the original.

Getting off the airport bus at Liverpool Street; yet more construction, this time at Barons Court; the Canada Memorial in Green Park; two pictures of the trendy young of Shoreditch in Mark Square lunchtime; interior view of the Wild Food Cafe, and a view out on to Neal's Yard; can you spot the army helicopter in this picture?; I love the natural back-light effect on the thistle, Richmond Park early Saturday morning; two views at Virginia Water. The first is all about that little patch of red in the trees across the lake.

Monday, 28 September 2015

The Dream of a Purpose For A Life

So for complicated reasons that aren’t very interesting, I’ve been thinking about the “find your purpose in life” thing. I had a number of thoughts, but mostly of an analytical nature which aren’t terribly useful to anyone. And then along comes Mike Cernovich with a post about living your dreams and daring to dream big. Being a sad sack, if I’ve heard that once, I’ve heard it a gajillion times.

Here’s my problem with it.

I have no dreams.

Seriously. I’ve never wanted to “be” anything or anybody. I’ve never looked at anything and thought “That. That’s what I want.” I’ve thought the equivalent of “that would be a really cool-to-have” but never “This. Right here. Right now. This is it.” I’ve been mildly blissed out now and again, and certainly been at ease for lengths of time, often by the sea. I like warm dry air, swimming because the feel of water on my skin, strong winds for a similar reason, blue skies, sparkling water, the restless waves of the Atlantic… all sorts of stuff. I can be transported by music and look at pretty girls for ever. But this is all just drugs.

Let me explain that.

My hormone soup is sharp vinegar. My serotonin re-uptake is so efficient that the stuff barely has a chance to work. As for oxytocin and all those other feel-good hormones, give my hypothalamus a prod because it doesn’t produce any. The slightest wound takes forever to heal, and I have never felt bonding to any of the perfectly attractive and pleasant women I’ve known. I spent years as a suffering alcoholic, and a few more before and after as a needy, depressed ACoA. Heck, I can’t even take a week off work without feeling agitated and depressed. Whether I go away or stay at home. It’s not the work and the people I miss, but the distraction that coping with commutes and work provides.

My body, brain and hormones are wired entirely wrong. I cannot feel good - I don’t have the chemicals that you do when you feel “good”. Your idea of feeling “normal” would be my idea of a heavenly rest. It’s not that I feel down, bad or depressed all the time - though I used to when I was drinking - it’s like you’re wearing an emotional silk shirt and I’m wearing emotional coarse wool shirt.

My dream is to get away from my hormone soup. I've stayed away from drugs all my life because I know that if I found one that got me out of it, I would never come back in again. There is nothing in this world that can get me away from my body - it comes with me wherever I go. And every now and then I simply can’t keep up the pretence, and wallow in self-pity for a while. Not long, because I can’t really afford long, but sometimes it’s the only honest feeling I have. No. Make that, sometimes it’s the only feeling I have.

Which sounds a little melodramatic, so I’ll say that I have all the "daily feelings”, you know, the simple stuff that ranges from “Yum tuna sandwich” (did anyone actually say that in real life?) to “Ugh rain and no umbrella”, taking in “yippee a window seat” and “isn’t it great to be alive walking across Waterloo Bridge at 07:30 under a blue sky?”. Those are top notes on the base of slightly brakish tapwater (to strain the metaphor). The difference between you and me is the base, not the top notes.

So what about the whole “purpose” and “dreams” thing? Those of us who needed fixing, and may still secretly want fixing, and those of us with mis-wired hormones, tend not to be enthusiastic about dreams and life-purposes. Even if we realised our dreams, we would still have the same emotional problem.

Over time, I’ve come to consider that self-respect is a better motive than happiness - well, I would, wouldn’t I? I do stuff because it stretches and develops me, and that is a good in its own right. Not a popular one, and not one with a lot of sugar, but I’m fairly sure that Aristotle would get the point. Self-respect keeps me training, walking, watching what I eat, reading difficult books, and other such improving activities. It doesn’t get me on the Promenade des Anglais watching the sunset before supper on a side street in the Old Town, and I do miss that stuff, but I can’t do it on my own anymore. Maintaining my self-respect (aka “overweening vanity”) doesn’t cure Cancer or rid Africa of hunger, but, oh, neither does anything else.

My main motive is and has always been fear. Fear of winding up in a no-hope council estate. Fear of being poor; of being coarse, crude and stupid; of chaos; of being overweight; of irreparable injury; of a slow, lingering death that takes my dignity. I do stuff to avoid those things, and when I have, I pretty much feel like I’m okay. I don’t do stuff because it’s going to make me richer, or more popular, or more satisfied. Fear is a strong motivator, but it doesn’t get me past a fairly basic standard of living. Vanity that does that. (Oh yeah, I’m a total mess.)

Mike Cernovish thinks of dreams in terms of going places and doing things. At his age, and with what he has in the bank, I’d think of it like that as well. When I was much younger, I wanted to be a university lecturer (actually, I wanted to be a philosopher, and lecturing was how you got paid for that), and I thank my Higher Power that didn’t happen. When I started work, I wanted to get into management, and now I’m glad I’m not. I don’t like what management and university teaching have become. As for back-packing round South America or jumping off bridges with a big elastic band round my ankles… nah. I’ll leave that to the kids in Deloitte’s.

A man at any stage of his life should have an ambition, as it gives him direction, but what it is can change as his life changes. There’s no proper pattern, except that it’s generally sensible to match the ambition to the energy you have, which tends to be higher when younger. At the moment, one of my ambitions (Mercury in Gemini, what can I say?) is to find an intuitively-acceptable explanation of why there are as many linearly independent one-forms as holes on a Riemann surface. There are complicated explanations, but no simple ones. When (not if) I find it, you will read about here. I have no connections with the academic world, so it won’t be seen by anyone. I’m not doing it for you, I’m doing it for me.

In the end, this is one thing about all ambitions, plans and dreams: unless we do it for ourselves, it won’t be satisfying. Satisfaction comes from playing the music, not the applause. Other people might benefit, and it’s nice that they do. But they don’t have to for the ambition to be successful.

Your Mileage May Vary on this. You’re not an alcoholic and you’re not my age. If you have ambitions and dreams, please do all you can to realise them. And on that subject Mike’s post has some good advice.