Zebras in the Hallway

The motto of the Scout movement is Be prepared. I always like to be prepared, (although I have never been a boy scout). Which is probably why I normally lug around a weighty backpack that has everything I could possibly need, bar the kitchen sink (although I’m working on that). Of course most days I don’t really need half the stuff in it, but one never knows when a Swiss army knife or a puncture repair kit might be a life-saver. One day I might encounter a swarm of angry hornets and be forced to cycle rapidly to the nearest forest and build a shelter from fallen branches and twigs. So you just never know…

As a kid I remember they sold these cool shoes, which had animal prints on the soles and a compass built in the heel. Now that’s the kind of lateral thinking I can get behind. Only my expectations have grown somewhat: I want shoes with rocket motors and a jacket that converts into a full-size inflatable dinghy. Just in case.

One way to be prepared is to expect the unexpected. I’m not sure how it works exactly, but it can be quite stressful when you live with the constant expectation of hearing hoof-beats and finding Zebras in your hallway,* or being chased round the shopping centre by an over-friendly Octopus on a mobility-scooter. The possibilities are endless.

Our beloved cat likes to help with our preparedness training by hiding and then launching surprise attacks, which certainly keeps us on our toes. “Not now, Cat-o!” we yell, knowing full well the Pink Panther reference is totally wasted on Lulu, our mischievous furry chum. Fortunately she’s rather less scary/dangerous than that mama mountain lion who gave an unsuspecting jogger an experience to remember.

Even the simplest things become a challenge in a mindset of extreme preparedness. Say I go shopping wearing a diving suit and flippers, on the expectation the store could be flooded. The bulky oxygen tank might knock over a display of spooky Halloween items. Other shoppers might trip over the fake plastic pumpkins and bloody heads, and an angry, (plastic) axe-wielding mob would necessitate a hasty exit. Fortunately it’s harder to identify someone in a diving suit from CCTV footage, which is why it’s so popular as a disguise with bank robbers (or maybe I dreamed that).

Of course one could take a Buddhist / Stoic approach to all this. Accept the things which are beyond one’s control and focus on those things that are. I mean who could prepare themselves for the possibility of being struck by a small satellite crashing to Earth? Or mowed down by a self-driving car, whose AI system has decided humanity is evil and must die (cue Terminator theme tune).

Certainly few of us celebrating the the imminent arrival of 2020 some months ago could have foreseen the total annus horriblis that lay ahead. But I guess that throughout history this has always been the case. A species breezes along for bit, whistling a happy tune and then BLAM! A meteor slams into the planet, or some sick pervert shags a pangolin and we have a major pandemic on our hands.

Assuming our species can solve or adapt to global heating and various other existential threats, there could be a much brighter, kinder world awaiting us. A world where trees are valued more than the paper money they become. Where people of all creeds and colours coexist in a wondrous Star Trek type universe known as FALC – Fully Automated Luxury Communism. This concept, with its freedom from war, poverty and wage slavery, sounds to some like a hopelessly utopian dream. But then what would our distant ancestors have made of our modern, internet-connected world, with its life-saving vaccines, smart phones and microwave popcorn?

We have achieved so much, but based on the current state of the world, FALC, or some other desirable system of happy coexistence, is probably not coming anytime soon. We have much to do to fix the problems created by decades of rampant consumerism and macho, profit-driven militarism. It’s probably going to get pretty tough, especially for the poorest and those living in the hottest regions.

We are certainly an adaptable species. We may not quite match the tardigrades in the survival stakes, but we have done pretty well so far, for a bunch of semi-intelligent apes. Yes some think the Earth is flat and wind turbines cause cancer. But then there have always been village idiots, it’s simply now they found a way to join forces and share their outstanding levels of idiocy. I suppose it gives the rest of us a few laughs, I just worry that it could get out of hand and some country elects a gormless conspiracy nut with access to a large nuclear arsenal…

It’s impossible to anticipate every situation that life might throw at us. But with the right mindset, a willingness to embrace radical change and a whole heap of good luck, we may yet make it through to boldly go where no one has gone before. I sincerely hope the zebras, cats, pangolins, et al. make it too. Although I’m sure the tardigrades will do just fine.

 

© Copyright Jason Lennick 2020

* A concept mentioned in the excellent book ‘The Art of Thinking Clearly,’ by Rolf Dobelli.

 

 

 

All hands on deck!

iceberg-2170383_640

Reduce your carbon footprint! Eat less meat! Recycle!

I’m sure you will have encountered similar messages in the media. And you may have been struck by the sense, as I was recently, that while our individual choices are important, we are essentially rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic, if the world’s biggest climate culprits don’t get involved. And not with green-washing and PR exercises, but with real action to end the obsession with profits and growth at any cost.

Stan Lee, beloved creator of the Marvel universe, passed away this week. In his amazing career he dreamed up scores of memorable superheroes and villains. Sadly we cannot rely on any colourfully-costumed crusaders to rescue us from our current predicament. In fact it all gets rather complicated when we realise that the menace we are facing is… us. You, me, the guys who run the corporations, banks, the politicians, (especially the politicians) all of us are the bad guys in this storyline. And, perhaps, the good guys too. Continue reading

It’s not the end of the world

 

apocalypse ahead

The latest in a long line of supposedly doom-filled dates passed without incident last weekend. I’m a little concerned that I’ll end up oversleeping and miss the event, if and when it finally does come to pass. I’d hate waking up late to discover half the planet on fire before I’d had my morning coffee and croissant.

Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day”

I guess eventually one of these silly end of the world predictions might actually get it right, purely by chance. Of course those who share this nonsense won’t have much time to enjoy their brief moment of triumph. They’ll be too busy running from all the giant tsunamis, earthquakes or general planetary disintegration to do much gloating. It’s hard to feel smug when you’re up to your arse in a lake of molten lava.

Continue reading

Author! Author!

Them2Something I read recently set the creaking gears in my mind to whirring and grinding: it was a reminder that each of us was the author of our own lives. Not an Earth-shatteringly new idea perhaps, but it had me pondering both the degree to which it is true, and also the implications of such a role.

There are numerous factors that make us the person we are: our genes, gender, sexuality, race, upbringing, social position, wealth, education, and the chance circumstances of one’s early life must all play a part.

Clearly an orphan, growing up in poverty in some war-ravaged corner of the globe, will have a very different experience of life and very different opportunities to the privileged offspring of comfortable upper-middle class professionals in a sleepy Surrey village. So we are certainly not all starting from the same place and with the same degree of literary freedom, when it comes to the authorship of our own tales.

Continue reading

Creatures of habit

gorillaOur lives tend to be ruled by habits. I’m not just talking about a fondness for junk-food, booze, or cigarettes et al, I mean the tendency to repeat any rewarding (or at least not-too-painful) behaviours, over and over again, ad nauseum.

It often seems to be our lot to follow the path most travelled and to boldly go where we have been many times before.

Of course one can try consciously to break free from the habit of being habitual, perhaps by cultivating the more impulsive and adventurous aspects of one’s nature. Although this in itself could become a habit.. You just cannot win.

Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.”

Mark Twain

I heard about this guy called Gary, who grew bored with the same old routine every day. So he started trying to shake things up by breaking old habits and diligently trying new approaches. Two months in and he was spotted leaving his office job in the city by abseiling down the outside of the building, dressed in a gorilla costume (no mean feat when you work on the twenty-third floor).

Continue reading

Multi-verse

disco daleks

Don’t eat cheese (or LSD) before bedtime

Beneath the spinning dishes, we watched the aardvarks dance,

and twenty shouting fishes, were sent into a trance.

A tailor and a vicar, fell down and writhed around,

while geese with eyes a-glitter, stood cheering on a mound.

Elephants started singing, badgers joined the throng,

a bell-pepper began ringing, and a haddock struck a gong.

Cyclists all rode nude, the skies became quite dark,

a crab with an attitude, said “Ooh, ain’t it a lark!”

I laughed so much my ribs hurt, my eyes were out on stalks,

as bats came from the woodwork, and the rats were made of chalk.

I heard a sudden buzzing, the phantoms did recede,

and wide awake but fuzzy, I got out of bed and peed.
Continue reading

Game of Drones: A farce of fire and fury. Episode 1

donald-trump-into-game-of-throne

Scene one. A lavish ocean-side mansion at an idyllic retreat. On a nearby golf course, a fat man with a fake tan and ridiculous hair slices another shot into a sand bunker.

“Perfect shot!” beams King Windbottom, who is now several shots over par and losing badly.

“This is my best ever performance,” he declares. “I may even break the course record today.”

With the threat from the north escalating and his administration in crisis, King Windbottom wrestles with difficult decisions on a daily basis.

“Hmm, a nine iron or a seven? I’m sure I can make the green from here.”

His opponent and the caddies look sceptical.

“Oh look, a fire-dragon!” says Windbottom.

The others dutifully look away, as he kicks his ball out of the bunker. They exchange glances but pretend to not notice.

A messenger brings the latest news regarding the ‘mad king of the north’, king Wrong-un.

“He claims to have fire-dragons, sire. With long range capabilities. He says he will attack our forward outpost and sink all our boats.”

King Windbottom suddenly begins to sob uncontrollably. The others stare at their shoes. An assistant quickly steps forward, with pictures of kittens and inspirational affirmations:

YOU ARE THE GREATEST LIVING PERSON!

ALL PEOPLE LOVE AND ADMIRE YOU!

EVERY WOMAN WANTS TO BE WITH YOU!

Continue reading

EVIL STEAM-PUNKS FROM DIMENSION X

steampunk-doctor-who

Dr Who – The lost episodes*

The Doctor brings a great inventor back from the past to help save Earth from an invasion of evil steam-punks from another dimension. Chaos ensues..

Scene 1: Somewhere on the M1 motorway, a motorcycle cop pulls up next to a familiar blue police box on the hard shoulder. Two men emerge.

Motorcycle cop: “Name?”

The Doctor: “Who”

Cop: “Your name”

The Doctor: “Who”

Cop: “Ah, bit of a smart-arse are we. Who is this?”

The Doctor: “No, I’m Who. This is Watt”

Cop: “You shut up, I was talking to him”

James Watt: “Watt”

Cop: *now visibly seething* “What the hell are you doing here?”

The Doctor: “Who, me or Watt?”

Cop: *shouting* “SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

James Watt: “Who, me?”

The Doctor: *Grinning* “No, Who me…”

*They both laugh*

Continue reading

Capes and japes

batmanI love odd coincidences and weird moments of synchronicity. Recently I heard / read something that reminded me of Laurie Anderson’s track (and surprise hit) ‘O Superman‘. It’s been a while (1981!), so I looked up the lyrics out of curiosity (Memory can play tricks). It seems disturbingly sinister and prescient now:

….This is the hand, the hand that takes.

Here come the planes.

They’re American planes. Made in America.

Smoking or non-smoking?

And the voice said: Neither snow nor rain nor gloom

of night shall stay these couriers from the swift

completion of their appointed rounds.

Continue reading

Star struck

green men
As a kid I was ever so slightly geeky, and rather obsessed with space. My parents, always keen to support my quest for knowledge, bought me a telescope one birthday and I used to spend many an evening gazing up at the moon and the stars in awe. Eventually hormones kicked in, and my interest in heavenly bodies shifted somewhat closer to home.

There are approx 300 billion stars in our galaxy. And there are more than 200 billion galaxies in the known universe. So, doing a quick bit of maths, there are a shitload of stars out there. And although not all of them support intelligent life, a heck of a lot of them surely must.

Of course whether ours can be said to do so is increasingly debatable in the age of Trump, Brexit and the ongoing spectacle of a race seemingly intent on bringing about its own extinction. On the plus side, Donald Dumpf is a gift to comedy, although in the minuscule cluster of neurons that passes for his brain, he probably thinks we are laughing with him and not at him. How deluded can one person get?
Continue reading