Wednesday, 18 March 2015


One of the most disturbing news stories I have seen recently was something on my local news a couple of days ago. The report came from a local shopping centre where police had been negotiating with a man to come down from on top of the building. Sadly, however, he eventually jumped and died.

But the disturbing side of the story was to do with the onlookers: some of whom were reaching for camera phones to record the incident, while others were actively joking and shouting for him to jump. I found this last section particularly sickening – particularly the young lad who admitted on camera that some of the people he was hanging around with (i.e. him) had been amongst those catcalling the man.

There is psychological evidence to show that people who are part of the crowd are less likely to take action than a person on their own to help somebody – i.e. there’s a sense of “well someone else will do it”, but the fascination with recording everything is relatively new. It seems that the ability to carry a broadcast quality camera around in our pocket and instantly upload anything to the Internet has not only turned us into voyeurs on our own lives, but also desensitised us to the world around us.

However: to actually laugh and joke and urge somebody to jump to their death is a far more worrying development.

This follows on from a week where we have had a number of problems with local kids, which started with a valve being stolen from our tyre, continued with a wheelie bin being thrown at our door and most recently, albeit not directed at us, an attempt to smash as many car wing mirrors as they possibly could in the street (a series of events which has convinced us it’s time to move somewhere less semi-evolved)

With all of the above I keep saying to myself that I can’t understand the pleasure that could be gained from performing these actions: nor why someone would want to single us out, when all we have done is to keep to ourselves. And the truth is that it’s nothing to do with us – we are just easy victims and they have no understanding nor empathy of the effect of their actions. It’s just senseless violence for the sake of something to do.

I have no understanding for the kind of life they have led that can bring them to a state of being where attacking someone senselessly, or jokingly calling for someone’s death, can have no meaningful context or can be seen to be funny. Where is the pleasure in that?

But then how can I possibly have any understanding? I grew up in a completely different area, with parents who taught me right from wrong. I grew up in a completely different world, where people talked with each other instead of burying their face in their iPad. Although the kids at our school were pretty nasty sometimes I doubt that many of them would have shouted at someone to jump off a building, if any.

And why should they care about me?  They live in a world where the only goal is self gratification and there are little or no consequences.

All of this is left me thinking about an old episode of Star Trek: The Generation.

In the story, entitled “Darmok” Captain Picard encounters a race who initially seem to talk in gibberish despite all attempts to translate them. In desperation the alien captain kidnaps Picard and takes them to the planet below, where he constantly says (amongst other things) “Darmok and Jilad at Tanagra”.

As the episode continues we slowly begin to understand that their language is entirely contextual and everything they say relates back to their ancient stories and history – the example being the story of Darmok and Jilad, who started off as enemies but came to be friends after they faced a battle together: only once you know this shared history does the sentence make any sense.

Although there is no realistic way that such language could have evolved the idea is an interesting concept – what would it do to our society if the only way we had of communicating with one another was to talk about shared experiences and relate them to our history? Would this foster a greater understanding of one another and read empathy for different viewpoints which it now became necessary to understand and relate to in order to do anything even as basic as trade with one another?

If we had no choice but to empathise with one another surely this would change the way we view our own lives and the world around us?

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Live Organ Transplants

I don’t know what it’s like in other countries, but getting anything for cheap in the UK requires a level of deduction and planning rarely seen outside the offices of Sherlock Holmes.

For instance – if I were to travel between my house and London via train an “any time you want” ticket would cost me around £140 and even booking from A to C on the cheaper tickets would still be around £90. However: if I break my journey so that I buy a ticket from A to B and then from B to C ON EXACTLY THE SAME TRAIN AS THE MORE EXPENSIVE OPTION and then come back from C to a station there is actually further on from A I can actually do this for around £55.

Not that the travel companies will tell you any of the above, oh no: you need a good knowledge of the route, a lot of determination and to spend a good fortnight trawling the internet and typing in all the different variations you can think of

It was with this thought in mind that, when I had to recently travelled to London for the 1st time in about 5 months, I decided it would be just as cheap to travel down the night before and stay over if I found a suitably cheap hotel. As it turned out the journey down in the evening cost £10 and the journey back the next day cost £25 – so all I needed to do would be to find a hotel for around £45 and I would pretty much break even (aside from food and taxis), alongside the benefit that I would be less tired for the team meeting that was due to take all day.

So I spent some time on the hotel comparison websites such as and also rang around 3 or 4 hotels before I finally spoke to a young woman with a heavy set Eastern Block accent who was far more helpful than the previous hotels had been and, as such, I decided to book with them requesting a room on the 1st floor as I knew they wouldn’t have a lift and didn’t fancy 20 flights of stairs!

So the day of my travel arrived and at 5:15 PM I boarded the slow train to London – arriving just after 7:30 PM, by which time I was too tired to face the thought of travelling on the underground and caught a taxi across London that actually ended up costing me more than the entire train journey so far! As I arrived I saw that the front of the hotel was covered in scaffolding, making it impossible to see the contours of the building. To be fair I wasn’t expecting a great deal – this was a one star hotel, which means it was as cheap as you can possibly get (hotels in England tend to go from 1 to 5 stars).

Inside the woman with the Eastern Block accident greeted me, telling me that if I wanted a remote control for the TV it would be a £5 deposit – which I politely declined, having taught my generic tablet device with me (complete with downloaded program about art from the BBC).

I followed her direction down the corridor and saw that the stairwell that I was due to climb was covered in clear plastic sheeting (the kind you see bodies wrapped in on CSI Punxsutawney) and it was then that my texts to my friend and occasional fellow blogger Argent that the hotel would turn out to be a front for illegal organ donation or the Russian Mafia/white slave trade came back told me, even despite the smell of plaster and paint that was clearly the true explanation.

I carefully climbed the stairs, making sure not to slip on the sheeting whilst also examining it for any tell-tale signs of blood or entrails, and let myself into the room.

The room itself was little more than a box with a single bed in each opposing corner and a small cupboard that served as the ensuite bathroom and toilet in between. The shower was a square that was barely big enough for a 12-year-old to clean themselves and the toilet was positioned in such a way that it faced an outward jetting part of the wall, making it impossible to sit down on the seat in a straight line with the system behind your back without first removing one of your legs.

However the room was clean and the bed seemed reasonably comfortable which was the main thing.

It was now so dark that I couldn’t see what kind of view I had, but with the window closed could barely hear any traffic.

This was when I inadvertently made my 2nd mistake. Earlier in the day I had listened to documentary about a musical group that had played a song in the style of a Slavic anthem and, what with my comments about the Russian Mafia, I found this stuck in my head all night long as my brain refused to shut up and let me sleep properly.

Now this is where things get really strange – because at about 11/12 at night another man let himself into the room and started setting up on the other bed – it turned out that the hotel had double booked the room, explaining the 2nd single bed. To be honest I should have gone down and complained – but I was far too tired and decided just to put up with it, as he didn’t seem to be making much noise.

However – at about 3 o’clock in the morning the door of the room was kicked in and a shadowy figure appeared in the doorway, leering drunkenly into the room. After a moment’s hesitation he apologised in a sick Russian accident and went away again to the room he should actually have been staying in. I got up and went to the door of the room, only to see that had been kicked clean off the hinges.

It was at this point that I woke up and found myself alone again in the hotel room – my fellow guest and the Russian Mafia bloke having been created by my imagination.  Sleep continued to come and go for the rest of the night, interspersed by a variety of songs playing in my head to the beat of a polka.

Morning came and I somehow managed to squeeze into the tiny space allocated for shower and washed myself – then it was downstairs to the basement where there was an array of beds and linen splayed out across the hallway outside of the breakfast room. Breakfast was beyond extremely cheap: consisting only of a tiny packet of cereals, an extremely runny yoghurt and some cheap orange squash – so I ate enough to feel that I had earned at least some of my additional £2 I paid for the privilege and checked out.

In the end, if you include all the taxis, it did end up costing me more than coming down on the same day would have – but the main thing is that I was awake, ready for work and still had all of my internal organs intact!