real estate

Teleology Terrace

definitions;

encouragement: the act of giving someone courage

courage: an action in opposition to the resistance of fear

work: an action in opposition to the inertia of laziness

aetiology: the investigation or attribution of the cause

teleology: the explanation of phenomena in terms of the purpose they serve rather than of the cause by which they arise

entropy: a gradual decline into disorder

chronic: expanding out across the timeline

Fear is only a limit. It forces us to stay still, it doesn’t make us breathe. Fear itself is scary. But like everything around us it is only a limit.

YoungBloodRose*

Are you feeling a little down. Worthless even? A bit of a fool or something of a let down to yourself? Have you failed someone else? Caused a bit of a scene? Gotten into a bit of a pickle?

Minderwertigkeitsgefühl

More chronically, do you feel that life is just not panning out the way you figured it would or should? Or could have? 

When you were born you were entirely dependent for survival, second by second and minute by minute, on others. It was essential that you improved. You very quickly learnt the local tongue and how to walk without falling over and having to lean on stuff. This desire to walk the path of improvement is classically termed a feeling of superiority. Superior to your immediate prior self, that’s all. It’s not like you wanted to rule the world. (actually you did, but I’m sticking with Adler not Freud for today). 

Alfred Adler was an Austrian born medical doctor and psychotherapist (1870 -1937) so I have honoured him with the German word for what we would term feelings of inferiority as the above subtitle heading. You think Welsh is bad. German joins everything in one long word. Either that, or its English younger brother breaks words down into excessive bit-parts forcing complexion into formerly simple sentences. Both are true, of course. Perspective is all.

Coach yourself home

When you’re a life coach and you experience an entropic collapse – very common these days – let’s face it, twenty-twenty is not a year replete with majestic insight – a nifty vision-embedded nomenclature, the essence of the promise therein long-since bruised and broken – you are equipped with the tools to correct yourself, within reason and you are, as such, equipped with the ability to know what you cannot do and to recognise that for which you need to seek professional guidance. There are blindspots. You cannot see them. But you can know they are there to be seen by others. And you can go get the others.

In a kind of murky on-and-off depression that took a hold of me some time over the past eleven months – like a smart weapon of stealth – without knowing it – and interspersed with lengthy spells of intense pseudo-joy which acted as a master camouflage – I began to sabotage my life. I subconsciously and very slowly – slow enough so as to be imperceptible along the event horizon of conscious awareness – formed attachments (just mental configurations but very powerful nonetheless). Attachments are the ultimate source of all suffering in life – be it money, stuff, power, attention, people, careers, achievement – because once we attach we naturally seek to conserve. We hunch up against the cold dangerous world rather than openly embrace the warm one. Worse, we begin to move away from ourselves. Our vital honesty is lost. Clinginess and neediness ensue. And when we attach to things that we cannot have we experience feelings of inferiority. Minderwertigkeitsgefühl. Come on, at least give that word a shot. 

The solution to the problem of attachment is….. you guessed it…..detachment. We simply let go. When we detach, at once, we are on the road to healing and the path back home. Yet, this comes with pain, initially. Afterall, who wants to let go of what they have chosen to be around precisely because they liked it so much in the first place and continue to do so?

Happily, contingent with the pain of release is the innate knowledge (intuition) that freedom lay ahead and the right thing to do is being done. Not has been done. Is being done. For we are here now. In Buddhism, this is The Fourth Noble Truth. 

An essential subtlety of Buddhist detachment is not that we detach from everything continuously nor do we seek to avoid forming attachments, but that we see the nature of joyous attachment for what it is and we enjoy it fully yet always with an eye on it’s giddy fleeting illusion. Attaching to things – making them special and important to us – very often infuses our lives with colour and meaning. Attachment can provide motivation and a sense of purpose. It can be an experiential assist of terrific magnitude and in wholesome, controlled situations, an engine of growth. As such, attachment is good. Detachment as I speak of it here is both an ontological call-to-arms – I love my new shoes whilst deep down knowing that I don’t actually love them I just like them, and that they are only material stuff – and a tool to deploy in emergency situations when things go awry – such as the boundary issues I am about to reference. A kind of parachute cord.

You are choosing to be depressed

This sounds absurd. But only because you are assuming that I am referring to the conscious you. I am not. 

Courage – defined at the outset as an action in opposition to the resistance of fear – is precisely that. An action. Not a thought or any other version of mental intention. All too often, what we require yet what we shy away from is the courage to be afraid. 

For we are scared of the fear. The fear of failure. Of loss. Of ill-repute. Of the truth. Of loneliness. Of insecurity. Of not having the answers. Of not being loved. Of not matching and surpassing our preconceived mental projections of self-identity and corporeal possibility. Of missing out. Of jumping in. Of the skin we live in.

Taking personal action directly in opposition to a powerful force-field such as fear requires work. Work – defined at the outset as an action in opposition to the inertia of laziness – is precisely that. An action. Nothing gets done lest we do it. 

Inferior to whom?

When we are down it helps, precisely because our sense of inferiority is entirely relative, to be mindful of those who we consider to be worse off than ourselves. Luckily I do not have to look too far, and neither do you. Friends recently have told me they now seek psycho-analytic psychotherapy and hypnotic regression psycho-therapy, that they may kill off the old version of the self and build a new one. I applaud such courage and I applaud it with a caution: it will do what it says on the tin so beware. It may also make you worse before it makes you better. And you gotta turn up and stay in the room. Every time. Should the course of therapy work, it will also illuminate the true nature of the self as a cheap convincing construction. This is the best medicine, for then you will be equipped, going forward, with the ability to self-medicate when you hit a sticky spot in the road up ahead, within reason and to an extent. And it’s a bumpy road let’s face it.

I have neighbours who are struggling ferociously with depression and it’s great to see one in particular attending the gym daily despite his medical depressive deterioration. Keep going bro’. This is courage if ever courage were to be demonstrated. 

Boundary issues

Yet I must look closer to home. In my own depressive creeping determinism I unwittingly and without the slightest degree of external solicitation, attach to people (relational dynamics) inappropriately thereby turfing up all manner of basic boundary issues; the subsequent detachment from whom must mean the loss of that which I value dearly. Beautiful time-honoured friendships. I can then point to this loss as a kind of validation of my worthlessness. See? Here’s proof I am not valuable. Even they have gone away! It doesn’t seem to occur (nor does it seem to matter, should it occur) that I am doing it. I am doing all of it. 

“You know the happiest species on the planet? The goldfish. You know why? It has, like, a ten second memory.” Ted Lasso**

You are choosing to be happy

So, given that I can choose: how about I choose a little better this time around? And every single day (in fact, every single second) is a new time around. 

What you think of the world around you and what you think of yourself – is your world. It is ”the world” to you. And it starts now. And again now. And again now.

It is OK to be sad. To be lost. To get it wrong. To delude. To mis-attach and over-attach. We’re gonna do it. Let’s start by accepting the fact.

And it is also OK to be happy. Yet I prefer contentment. For it has no direct opposite.

Get a good support network around you of people who can see you and will level with you. Glowing in a sheen of trust. Your support network encourages you. The word encouragement literally references the action of giving someone courage. The network cannot take away your problem. For it really is your problem. But it can embellish you with the tools to go finish the job. No greater act of love exists so take the toolbox and get to work. 

Reach out to your support network. Listen. Consider. Then, when you are ready (all in your own time it’s not a race), level with yourself, speak the absolute truth as you see it to those concerned and let go. What, you’re too embarrassed? Do me a favour. Embarrassment is a quality of the ego and we are transcending ego. Personally, I named my depression. I called it The Gary Show. And here today is all about how to bring the curtain down on this particular episode.

Des res

There’s a fork in the road up ahead. You can amble the broad boulevard of Aetiology Avenue and continuously use your past experiences as valid reasons for your current life choices and state of mind. A long and often very pleasant walk. Embalmed in the late evening sun of self-pity and the smug security of logical justification. Vaunt, ye shall, in the velvet valour of victim-hood. The enticing abdication vacation. Have you noticed how it arcs gracefully in a continuous loop? 

Or you can take a trip down Teleology Terrace and face up to the fact that whatever is happening, you are doing it and you are doing it to subconsciously achieve some goal of avoidance. Yellow dog. You are choosing to be lost. You are opting for unhappiness. You are the saboteur. You are engineering excuses to stay right where you are whilst simultaneously whining about being left behind because you are scared of realising your potential. Can’t fail the test if you don’t take it, cowboy? I hear you. I am you.

Benchwarmers of the world disunite!

You’re at the edge yet you dare not jump. But you have to jump to grow – to fully live. And it’s all on you. You’d sooner just make excuses so as to spend your life basking in the false dawn of if only. A much shorter jaunt. Not so warm here. The leeward shade picks the hairs on your neck up and makes your skin pimple. The townhouses are cute though. And it’s sunny in the back gardens and it’s a joyful homely community for those who got the balls to hang around. Content, grounded, wholesome, authentic, real people make their home lives along this idyllic stonework stretch. For the truth is patently obvious down Teleology Terrace: all attachments are a narrative construction. You are doing it and you are doing it on purpose.

Sure, when you let go, it will sting, but you ain’t really letting go of anything at all. Just your sad self. You are letting go of letting yourself down and letting those who rely on you down. So when it gets to this stage, pull the cord, Jack. Like, just do it already!

When I summon the will to deploy the courage that has been lovingly supplied, I sure would sooner put an offer in for one of these cosy cottages than anything down there on Acacia. You think you know the property market? So how come you don’t even know that the real estate is inside your head? Everything else is just babble. Background noise, baby.

Lockdown is hard. COVID-19 is really hard, for me. But tomorrow the sun will rise. I can do it. Y’all can do it. 

The Four Noble Truths

1 Life is suffering

2 The source of suffering is attachment

3 Cessation from suffering is possible

4 The path to cessation is suffering 

Thanks for reading. You are never alone.

We are one

This article is inspired by my reading of a book called The Courage to be Disliked: How to Free Yourself by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga.

Alfred Adler was an Austrian medical doctor, psychotherapist, and founder of the school of individual psychology. His emphasis on the importance of feelings of inferiority, (notably not the inferiority complex as commonly referenced nowadays), is recognized as an isolating element which plays a key role in personality development.

*YoungBloodRose http://youngbloodrose.wordpress.com

**Ted Lasso is an comedy series now showing in the UK on appleTV+

google bombed

Lockdown? You should be locked up

I often wonder why people think the iPhone is too expensive. Last December, my new iPhone 8 with 20G data from a real mobile network (there are five in the UK) increased my monthly sub from a sim-only £16-99 to a kitted up £27. Today, the latest iPhone SE is an iPhone11 in an iPhone8 case. Powerful as an iMac. Unreal. £419 brand new from the apple store or £11.62 a  month. https://www.apple.com/uk/

My friend Joe is going round footy grounds in lockdown playing fan songs on the saxophone. He got on Match of the Day and so started to take media seriously since his photos and tweets now have a massive audience. The extract below is from the Liverpool Echo reporting on last month’s Merseyside derby.

He bought a new Huawei last week. 

This, by the way, is a Chinese case containing software made by a search engine company from the US that has no idea what it is doing with Operating Systems (google is a search engine playing at Windows and getting it badly wrong) so it charges apps (from Spotify to Netflix to PowerPoint to Facebook) millions just for the right to go on the phone. So he sends me a video of a match to SEO on social media and it arrives ‘degraded’. I can hear it but not see it. 

The new Huawei P30 Pro from £699. Or the P30 from £599. Or try the Samsung galaxy S20 from £799. Or LG. The case is made by one company. The operating system by another. The apps by another. No processor on earth with a speed and bandwidth worthy of good work. So yesterday – although Joe thinks he’s simply using his awesome new kit, he’s trying to play Spotify (Sweden) on his Huawei (China) running on Google Android (US) and it goes from not working at all to being moody. And sounds shit by the way. All “phones” bar one are a poorly orchestrated assembly of un-conjoined and competing bit-players masquerading as one product.

How come you don’t know your prices from your VMNO?

Of course, Joe’s video degradation issue is caused by his VMNO SIM, yet his apology for an attempt to get Madonna songs to play on his Huawei was entirely to do with the nature of the lie of Android. It is a financial gatekeeper. Otherwise, google tends to use it’s own name – you know – when it’s up to something customer-centric and wholesome. If I aggregate a bunch of rubbish – and I am basing my judgment on time honoured first hand stories of performance failure – into a box labelled Mercedes, it does not make the contents of high quality German origin. Huawei. LG. Samsung. Do me a favour.

Do you even know that Samsung and Huawei are just the encasing? They don’t make phone technology at all. Don’t you know that SkyMobile and GiffGaff are not even mobile networks. They own no fibre. They just buy the unused capacity from the likes of O2 with outages and limited bandwidth built in.

If you’re a teenager having fun, cool. But I thought you were calling yourself a media professional. What, and you cant’ be bothered not only to invest in the requisite kit – you cannot even be bothered to know what I am talking about. Wow! Go home and stare at your TV. I think I’ve got your level.

In contrast to Joe with his new Huawei, to get music (it really isn’t rocket science) my (cheaper) phone is by default running iTunes or “Apple Music” (by apple) on an operating system called iOS (by apple) in a phone case of high end glass and titanium called iPhone (by apple) and the wireless gravity sensor AirPods (apple) use voice command called Siri by apple which deploys beamforming technology (by apple) to allow me to send free text called iMessage (by apple) by speaking them out as it plays me incoming texts, make and take calls etc with the phone anywhere about my person or close proximity. AirPods and phone on a wireless charger by apple. And Joe can’t even get music to play let alone read or send MMS without paying for it  and I’m making music (GarageBand by apple) and writing books (ibooksAuthor) and making video (apple QuickTime) with ease using the fastest processor on earth. Cheaper. News on iShelf. Books in iBooks. No need for cash. Applepay. No need to remember passwords. Keychain on iCloud. Fingerprint and retina active. Every single ingredient designed from the off by one company. It all seamlessly works every single time. Half the price. You’ve been made, mate.

I couldn’t care less if it’s Disney or Lego or Apple or Sony or AMSTRAD. If one company can be bothered to integrate at such breadth and to such a quality that the fluency of the customer journey is simple and optimal and long lived and fun and constant – I’m in. This rant is not a brand love song. But why does iPhone have no competitors? Not one other integrated system on the entire market! Shocking.

Table for two, sir?

You’re a chef. Let’s open a restaurant! Using a global pean of normally competing suppliers from different cultures, missions and values who will work to produce their parts of the project in glorious isolation, only meeting up for the first time to bring the whole project together on the night of the restaurant launch, we’ll get a Chinese company to do the cutlery, a Swedish firm the music and lighting and a US professional doorman to ‘play’ at being chef while a Canadian firm provides kitchen equipment and instead of paying all your staff charge them for the right to work there. Menus (data) may or may not be available depending on popularity and the electricity generators powering the whole show are good, normally. If the lights go out for a short while it’s just because we’ll be using a middle man as our supplier not an actual utility company. Charge customers double. Let’s have a booking system by a Korean company and maybe a bunch of students can cash up. See how that works out.

Zoom out

Just because the new normal is poor, you do not have to join in. From politicians doing daily TV briefings to office project professionals and coaches and celebrities, it’s clear that Zoom is popular. Zoom very often plays the audio delayed. Your lips move but the sound of your voice does not synch. It’s 2020 and you call yourself a professional. You believe you are pursuing a positive image with high values of integrity. But you are coming across like a high school amateur. You know it, by the way, so before you even start arguing the toss, this is on you. The only very clear message we are all getting when you do this is that you are happy to go along with the flock, that you have not given considered thought to what you are doing, and that your propensity to be easily led will always compromise your standards.

Lockdown? You should be locked up.

At best, you are making bad judgment. But I’d wager that you are sleeping. You simply cannot be bothered to stop for a moment and reflect on what you are doing. The quality of it. The customer experience. Use Teams or revert to high quality podcast audio. Think for yourself. Aim higher. May be use the time to zoom out of Zoom altogether and pay a visit to the apple store. It’s clear you’ve never gone anywhere near it from your imaginary price tags.

If I’m wrong, how come your media is so bad? No, it’s worse than bad. It’s mediocre. Why is all this news to you, anyway? What, am I spoon-feeding you now?

The best disinfectant is sunlight

Yesterday Joe cycled into the apple store and got a brand new iPhone SE and he’s sat in the pub with me later looking at his Huawei saying to me ‘Should I throw this junk in the river?’. I wonder why you all buy overpriced cheaply assembled eye-candy that never works without a struggle and yet you all seem to know how terribly expensive apple is and actually even what apple is -without ever checking. It’s totally awesome. What are you holding in your hand, bro?

The lower the standards and media output abilities and more tightly ring-fenced the pomposity and ignorance of the digital creative populous at large, the better for the rest of us. I am not complaining.

Brainwashed 

I encounter brand-snobbery regularly which is highly amusing. “Oh, I don’t do the “apple” thing.” was the reflex remark of a professional acquaintance who was complaining that her financially compromising self-styled video “talking head” was ruined as a media vehicle by the tinny audio dub. The apple thing! Spat with a disdain worthy of adultery or football hooliganism. I merely suggested she film in Quicktime and edit in iMovie – you know – solve the problem that she actually came at me with – using free professional apple software. She reacted like I’d suggested fire-walking or a month’s retreat to a religious cult.

Way cheaper than the non-apple thing and the only integrated system on the market – my kit makes me look like a creative genius of some calibre. So, please don’t do the apple thing. I will.

You complain. You ask. But you don’t listen. Personally I couldn’t care less. I am not requesting your ear. I’m saying please stop asking. It’s getting kinda boring and besides, I’m busy having awesome fun making quality media.

Thanks for reading. If it loaded up.

…..

Tales of the City

Diary entry

It’s the twentieth of May, 2020. A heat-wave sweeps across Britain, where a slight easing in the coronavirus lockdown restrictions that have been in place for a couple of months incentivises families and friends to head gingerly to waterparks and beaches. Here in Manchester the temperature hits twenty-seven celsius.

At two-hundred and fifty feet up in my inner-city condo in Salford to the west of the city centre, I am well placed to witness the first signs of life across a sprawl of villages and satellite towns spanning thirty miles of Cheshire plains and the Pennine foothills. But the resumption of economic activity is, at least for now, tentative, and is certainly not the bounce-back boom that had once been predicted by so called experts. There’s an echo of death in the air.

Moving to Brighton

For the last few weeks I have spent my time helping my neighbour Navine plan a relocation from Manchester to Brighton, East Sussex. The move will be permanent. Navine is due her gender re-assignment surgery in Brighton imminently. In fact, she was all set for it to take place within weeks before lockdown hit and pushed it back. It will happen in the Nuffield Hospital on the edge of Woodingdean, a suburb to the east of Brighton centre. 

Having made plans for the travel arrangements, which are classed as an essential journey given the nature of Navine’s situation coupled with the fact that her tenancy in a flat on my block is expiring, I had expected the accommodation side of things to be a breeze, at least from an economic standpoint. Afterall, lockdown has frozen the house-move market dead in its tracks. We have been using a combination of apps and websites, from Gumtree and RightMove to Prime Location, OnTheMarket, Movebubble and Zoopla. We have been scanning the classifieds of the Brighton Argus website (the local newspaper) and we have been emailing and speaking with both landlords and estate agents in East Sussex. Navine is all packed up and ready to flit. We have even got the man-with-a-van and storage facilities nailed down.

Navine, like me, is on a combination of welfare benefits that include Housing Benefit – the one that funds your private rental accommodation. For the past five years we have lived as neighbours in the very cheapest part of the city of Manchester, financially,  in a former social housing block, in order to keep our rent levels within or close to the welfare housing cap. 

To assist her cause – because we suspect what obstacles lay ahead, Navine has prepared a snazzy PDF: a simple one page personal profile that contains links to hosted web pages featuring third party proof of her timely rent payments across the years, a portfolio of her recently acquired qualifications from Manchester University and various local re-training colleges, specialising in childcare and mental health counselling, and a host of character and educational mentor references. Five references from people of local standing, in fact. She is responsible and popular and will be missed here in Salford. 

Immediately we encounter the expected resistance, but still, the sheer force of the discrimination is breathtaking. 

Welcome to the No DSS! world of private property landlords. 

The Equality Act and its subsequent statutory amendments, including a body of updates from 2010, outlaws both direct and indirect discrimination of women with disabilities here in England.

So, for example, direct discrimination would be where you get a case of a landlord simply rejecting Navine on the sheer fact of her transgender status, (see Type 3 below) whereas indirect discrimination would be to reject a consideration of her proposal to take on a tenancy for behavioural reasons that are particular to her demographic. This latter form of violation of English law is the rub of the issue. Even placing ads that specify No DSS in a city renowned for its high percentage of “protected characteristic” residents is tantamount to infringement, given that much of this demographic will find itself in need of welfare support by virtue of day-to-day negative bias in society at large.

I might not be able to afford to shop in Waitrose, but that does not give Waitrose the right to place a sign in its window stating that I am prohibited from shopping there, or even entering the store, based on my DSS status.

Much like when a potential employer rejects a female would-be-employee at the interview stage, not because he dislikes women per se, but because the employer is concerned that the woman under consideration for the role is likely to require time off work to give birth at some distant point in the future. Just as pregnancy is particular to women, gender re-assignment surgery is particular to transgender people just as economic hardship and marginal disadvantages often accrue to ethnic minorities, immigrant diasporas, BAME communities and gay people – who then reach out for welfare support. This is the very reason for the existence of The Equality Act. The Act focuses on “women with disabilities”.

Navine and I, searching the private rental single occupancy flat market in Brighton and Hove right now using our computers and pushing enquiries separately on her behalf most evenings before meeting up the next day to discuss our individual progress, are met with three main kinds of outright discrimination. But that’s not the main scandal that I want to expose to you in this article. 

DSS Discrimination

Type 1: Many adverts for property rentals actually state No DSS. Mindful to me of the No Dogs, Blacks and Irish signs that were billed in shop windows in the 1950’s, to welcome my mum and her family when she first came to this country. These billings are proof of a blanket intention to refuse any consideration of applicants with welfare status rather than looking at individual requests on a discretionary or case-by-case basis. In street language, this is stereotyping. Not blatant illegal behaviour per se, mind.

Before you even start thinking of arguing against me, as a Housing Benefit recipient my guarantor is HM Government – HM as in Her Majesty’s. I’d wager the royal family to be a rather decent underwriter: one of the richest institutions on earth. And I cannot be sacked from being on the dole. My rent is safer than anyones. You turn me down you could do with equipping yourself with a good reason, given the jist of what comes next. Period. And yet….

Type 2: The initially keen agent whose tone quickly deteriorates and who clams up when we reach them on the telephone to enquire after a specific property. At the mention of Housing Benefit, the call is terminated at lightning speed. Once or twice we are told that there are no flats available. This is in lockdown and the lie comes down the phone line into our ears while we are staring at thousands of apartments and pieds-à-terre advertised at Discounted Lockdown Rates in a market where normal house moves have been prohibited or strongly discouraged. Everything is available. Like, literally. 

Type 3: The landlord who kindly (for our legal purposes) issues written communication by email to Navine, casually declaring that his advert states No DSS and then going on to divulge, specifically, his main concern that since she is due her gender re-assignment surgery, she will have to take time off work and for this period will be financially compromised. He refuses to even look at her PDF. This is direct discrimination. Pretty serious stuff.

Legal Equality

To be clear, DSS is an umbrella term that covers anyone wholly or partly relying on welfare benefits to pay toward their private rent responsibilities. For many years now the Department of Work and Pensions in England has coined the term Housing Benefit and for the last five years this has merged into what is known as Universal Credit.

Yet, like most stigmas and taboos and stereotypes, mud sticks and old fashioned nomenclatures linger on. Remember half-caste and queer

DSS stands for Department of Social Security, a term last used in a non-pejorative sense in the 1990’s in Britain. Yet, somehow, still trending in broad daylight here in the summer of 2020, to Navine and I. Derogatory terms got stickiness, innit. 

And to be clearer still, the law as it stands in England does not specifically ban the right of private landlords to discriminate against those in receipt of such welfare payments. The Equality Act moves to protect such as women with disabilities when, by virtue of their minority status, they are more than likely, compared to the average citizen, to be in need of the welfare system in such a manner as to support themselves. 

What clearer case can there be of such flouting when a landlord states that, in respect of a transgender woman due for gender re-assignment surgery, his refusal to consider her as a tenant is based on his concern that when she is in hospital and in recovery for and from said surgery, she may be out of work? 

Related Issues

As you’ll discover should you click the BBC links featured below, landlords and agents come out with all manner of false objections that simply do not extinguish the illegal discrimination, but serve, rather, to prove it.

Often, confirmation of a rent guarantor will be demanded, even when the housing cap more than amply covers the rent level and the set up is confirmed for rent to go directly from DWP to the landlord. This stipulation is absent for employed people seeking the very same accommodation, despite the precarious nature of the labour market over the last thirty years. It could be argued that Universal Credit is a much more stable form of guaranteed rental income than many an employment contract. Welfare renters tend to stay for longer. Lower churn. Or is it just that they think we are all weed smoking layabouts ? Well, freedom of thought is permitted. But acting on such thoughts is tantamount to trouble.  

Disproportionate Guarantor Criteria

You’d think Navine was applying to buy the whole of Palmeira Square! In a neat sequence of events that perfectly sums up how even low-end rental property stakeholders make it impossible for welfare claimants to secure accommodation in Brighton, I managed to get hold of the criteria that Lawton & Dawe Properties – an estate agent in Brighton, use to authenticate Guarantor status. I have an email from one of the business managers at the Portland Road branch of that agency in Hove. In it, I am told that the referencing requirements for a guarantor include earnings of thirty-six times the monthly rent (about £30,000 pa for a flat that Housing Benefit would comfortably cover) AND domestic homeowner status AND a clean credit history.

Given that when I moved to Brighton with an employment contract but also with an abysmal credit rating and no home property deeds in my pocket, nobody requested a landed, salaried, squeaky clean guarantor. I merely waved my employment contract around and collected the keys to the flat. And so here is the disparity in the cold light of day. Welfare recipients are required to have access to third parties with unusually high levels of income. Low to mid-level salaried earners are not. By demanding that people with access to secure rent payments – gilt-edged no less – somehow prove that they have wide and deep access to additional monies ( I fail to see the relevance) when it is abundantly clear that, rent aside, they are poor in all financial respects, landlords and agents are exercising a personal judgment call on the character of the applicant whilst being too craven to admit it. They simply cannot argue that their actions are to shore up financial security, for the simple reason that such securities are not sought in the case of workers whose future abilities to meet rent obligations is no more concrete. In fact it is often less so. Job security is long gone. This is often, yet not always, illegal discrimination in motion.

It’s nothing personal. Some of my best friends are on welfare!

A common rebuttal is for the agent or landlord to blameship. They cite their insurance documents for the property and the mortgage covenants, explaining that they are specifically precluded from entertaining DSS people. But the banks, as issuers of such documentation, confirm that this is simply not true and that if any clauses exist in older mortgage deeds and insurance terms, they are null and void by virtue of the Unfair Contract Terms Act and as such can be discounted. 

Council Counsel

I was most shocked to learn that councils have been directly advising landlords and agents to steer clear of the DSS crowd for fear of squatters and laborious bureaucratic procedures that must be endured when damage or resistance to vacation occurs. All totally unfounded – damage and squatting being actually more common among the non-DSS majority. It is pure stereotypical bias and conjecture. And it is beginning to wind me up.

Lawyers tell us to keep a PRS diary of events, recording phone calls and saving emails and even scribbling down unrecorded acts of illegal bias. It is evidence. Yes. Not proof. But potentially material evidence. And not your word against mine. When chronic (time-honoured) patterns form we call it “circumstantial evidence” and it is permitted in court. Know your law or stop talking ’bout it. Some of Navine’s PRS (Private Rental Sector) diary entries are hilarious. Landlords and their legal agents proudly declare words to the effect of “It’s my land. I’ll choose whoever I please.” Blissfully ignorant that the Equality Act provisions in English law I cited earlier do not apply to anyone. They do not, for example, apply to Navine and I, simply because we are not land lords. (Lords. really? Of the Flies? Of The Dance? Of the gays?) Rather, the anti-discrimination law is biased. For it ONLY applies to landlords. The very people who seem to think they are above it. Doh! Watch this space. We mean business. Abuse isn’t even outrageous. It is boring.

Just think about that. Brighton and Hove Council. The super gay-friendly guardians of that particular society – it appears after more than a passing glance – are actively advising landowners to act in such a way as to keep low-earning renters out. But who are the new-to-Brighton renters? Lesbians. Gays. Bisexuals. Transgenders and Queer or “non-binary identifying” humans. LGBTQ. And very often this includes women with disabilities.

Our caretakers are sleeping while the house burns down. This is not trivial to us, by the way.

On the Moneybox show, one caller, a working mother using the welfare system to top up her rent, describes how she hears estate agents refer to her as a benefits scrounger when they think her call is muted on hold. 

Recent Settlements

Just this year, two single mums have, in non-related cases, won out-of-court settlements for being shut out of the property market in cases whose relevant details very closely resemble Navine’s. In each case the offending body had to cough up thousands of pounds in damages and tens of thousands in legal fees to the other side, plus a public apology in the press.

Here’s a link to the BBC’s radio call-in show on financial issues;

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000fq86

And on 27th February – just a few weeks back, these landmark cases were featured on a news article that is published and available at the time of writing on the BBC website.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-51642316

Brighton Council: The Sleeping Watchman

That BBC coverage is great news, yet I am specifically interested in how the DSS situation creates, as a knock-on effect, a gaping loophole in LGBTQ security in, of all places, gay-friendly Brighton – permitting blatant homophobic practices in the business sector under a thin veil of DSS snobbery. In broad daylight. And the community guardians cannot see it. This is happening right now.

What most disturbs me is the attitude of Brighton Council. The people Navine and I speak with are trying to be helpful when we lay out the problem to this long-standing bastion of LGBTQ protection – and I lived in Brighton long enough to make it home – with positive sincerity about this exceptional haven for my demographic. A resilient Green Party outlier on an otherwise very backward Victorian island of left and right wing party politics. Brighton, East Sussex is as progressive as San Fran, CA in many respects. 

First off, when we request a list of DSS friendly private landlords from the council, we are told that they do not hold nor publish one. They just leave people that are not on the council housing lists to fend for themselves. 

Next, and I won’t name names at this stage, our council contacts display a mind-boggling ignorance, not just of our plight and of the overt abuse in operation by landlords to some members of the LGBTQ community in its midst, but even as to the rent levels and local housing cap operative on their own watch. These are surely the basic metrics, an awareness of which is required to do your job. 

In Brighton the housing cap – the maximum rent awarded as a welfare payment to wholly or partly fund a self-contained one bedroom flat in the private rentals market – is just under £800 per month. 

Navine has been looking at properties well within this cap and there are plenty. Many come in at £750 per month. Some very decent looking places are way below that.

In fact, we have online-shopped until we are blue in the face and are literally going to bed at night and dreaming about one-beds on or near the sea-front. For me, it’s a town I know intimately and affectionately. For Navine, who aims to teach and counsel transgender issues to young people as a transgender woman, the career opportunities afforded in the area are both plentiful and exciting. 

Yet the council scoffs at our story, expressing disbelief that the rent levels are thus. One council employee comments that it is her understanding that the private rental market is full up – basing her conclusion on the fact that she is receiving many such calls as ours. It never occurs to her that a vulnerable community within the moral jurisdiction of her professional office is exposed and exploited. I guess we often see what we want to see, remaining blind to what we do not. Especially when the finger of responsibility points close to home.

Thirdly and what really amounts, in my opinion, to the overarching problem that may just be driving the whole flouting of UK law, Brighton council admits that its focus is primarily on direct discrimination to the LGBTQ community – you know the type of thing – social abuse and public ridicule and supporting environments that make for discomfort, domestic abuse and employment discrimination. 

Brighton has its eye so firmly on the ball that it lost sight of the goal. What a complete howler! This is really serious.

Legal Counsel

But this focus is at the tremendous cost, in breadth and depth and endemic in nature of permitting discriminatory behaviour contrary to provisions laid out in The Equality Act in English law. The end result is that some LGBTQ community members (women with disabilities) are facing an electric fence of resistance and shame, homelessness and social immobility right under the noses of those who have fashioned an international reputation for looking after their flock. People move to Brighton to escape this type of thing.

Shame on the landlords, agents and council. And on all of us in LGBTQ and women’s rights groups for sitting back and letting it happen. And on you if, after having read this, you move on unmoved.

What Now?

Navine is presently making good headway with lawyers about what to do next. Meantime, I intend to give a voice to this brewing storm and raise awareness. I have filed a copy of this article with the press office at Brighton & Hove Council with a request for a comment. So far, it has failed to respond. The Argus – the local newspaper – is next up.

This is just beginning. Stay tuned.

How you can help

  • You can help. If you are encountering DSS discrimination in the UK, know someone who is or just feel strongly about the issue, I invite you to get in touch with me. As an author and freelance investigative journalist on injustices of a social and governmental nature I am listening and pushing things forward. You can disclose in confidence or waive confidence at your discretion. I change names to protect my sources. I am grateful for you taking the time to read me today. Now do something.
  • garyknapton@me.com
  • 07552 239 466

…..

Invisible cities

Signs form a language, but not the one you think you know.*

The silk road

When Marco Polo, a thirteenth-century teenager hailing from an independent republic whose buildings were constructed with their foundations under shallow waters on sandbanks out in the sea to forestall sudden invasion – then called Veneti – long before the genesis of the nation of Italy – travelled along what we now call the Silk Road, he eventually arrived in the land of the Mongols and, more precisely, at the palace of its notorious leader, Kublai Khan. This was the heart of the most ancient civilisation on earth. Polo arrived as a seventeen year-old street-smart prodigy in the year 1273. Yet Khan’s court was the cornerstone of an empire nation that was by then already over a thousand years in fashion and a few hundred more besides. The Middle Kingdom: its name firmly expressing its superior role as the very centre of civilisation and the world.

China.

What was to become known as Venice was itself no upstart. The light from eight-hundred birthday candles flickered on its sandcastle kingdom cake like ripples on the Grand Canal expanding out from gondolas in the evening sun, even before the foreigner bent his knee before the King of Kings. 

Polo astounded the fifth Khagan of the Mongol empire with tales of his underwater city origins, whose martial architecture he painted for his royal audience with wistful brushstrokes of genial word-smithery designed to fire the warrior’s imagination in a spirit of deep romance, ethereal purpose and high splendour. Furnishing his tales with all the incredible sights, sounds, smells and tastes of his beloved Venetian lagoon, the boy was thereafter hastily commissioned by the man to travel the world and return with both verbal and written reports of his findings. Three hundred years prior to the discovery that our planet was a finite mass, Marco Polo – merchant, explorer and true wizard of the word, brought Asia to life and made the world larger in Chinese minds just as, sometime later, Galileo Galilei was to shrink it with precision mathematics.  

The explorer

The city of Hypatia was constructed to follow an alphabetic order of vanished alphabets with golden bridges over jacaranda maze courts and where one must climb high inland peaks at the peril of slave pits to visit the lavish Emperor’s palace so as to bid permission to make leave to embark on distant passing coastal ships that communicated through a system of trumpets.

Armilla was either half-finished or half-destroyed by the time Marco Polo arrived because here was a city of buildings with no walls, roofing, floors or doors. Just fully functioning water pipes and plumbing remained, or was ever thus, towering high into the sky with their glorious bursts of fountains and aqueducts and elevated rivers and featuring opulent bath-tubs and deep-rinse shower heads frequented by slender beautiful women. Short in stature. Long in the ways of the world. 

Polo is electric. I can read his endless Khan-infused art all day. He’s unstoppable. There are cities without time. Cities with visible music. There are intricate street plans that lead without fail to dead ends, built by men all of whom had dreamt the same dream of the perfect lover stealing away through unfathomable alleys. The upshot is a city where she cannot escape. But it didn’t work. She did. 

There are thin cities and trading cities and cities of desire. Places engineered in measurements whose physical ratios contain codes to emotional encounters of the past. 

Olivia, a city rich in products and profits, offers up filigree palaces with fringed cushions on seats by high mullioned windows. 

There are blackwater docks and cities with harbours that face both north and south at once. Citadels of double-deck verandas whose parapets look out over deep lakes as still as the moon. Thus the traveler, arriving, sees two cities; one erect above the lake, and the other reflected, upside down. 

There are literally hundreds of stand-alone case studies laid out for the pleasure of Kublai Khan’s insatiable ego by Marco Polo’s high rolling imagination and low-life irreproachable derring-do. Each more astounding and no less novel than the last. 

If Khan ruled over The Middle Kingdom, Marco Polo was determined to fill in the edges. And so it came to pass.

If you consider Shakespeare to have been a soap-opera genius who might keep you endlessly entertained around a campfire, Marco Polo could build an entire city around that same campfire in the blink of a poet’s eye and supply the intricate details to make it eerily believable. Desirable. Original. Somehow already familiar. Enchanting. Enticing. Mesmerising. Magnetic. 

And oh how familiar…

The homecoming

For I eventually came across Polo’s vivid description of a city called Chloe. We all know Chloe in this global pandemic lockdown. For we are living within her walls even as I breathe and write. 

Here is Italo Calvino reporting Polo’s recollection of stumbling into Chloe:

“But no one greets anyone: eyes lock for a second, then dart away, seeking other eyes, never stopping. 

A girl comes along twisting a parasol on her shoulder and twirling slightly her rounded hips. A woman in black comes along, showing her full age, her eyes restless beneath her veil, her lips trembling. A tattooed giant comes along; a young man with white hair; a female dwarf; two girls, twins, dressed in coral.

Something runs among them, an exchange of glances like lines that connect one figure with another and draw arrows, stars, triangles; until all combinations are used up in a moment, and other characters come onto the scene. 

And thus, when some people happen to find themselves together, taking shelter from the rain under an arcade, or crowding beneath the awnings of a bazaar, connections are consummated without a word exchanged, without a finger touching anything, almost without an eye raised.

A voluptuous vibration constantly stirs Chloe, the most chaste of cities.”

Wine is sunlight held together by water**

You see, it’s time to smile. Because as weird and unsettling as lockdown is, there is uncanny consolation in the fact that history is older and the world more mysterious, promissory and fruitful than even the imagination of time honoured travelling chancers, powerful leaders and gifted poets. 

Even Marco Polo would be, if not amazed, then at least delighted to find a planet-wide city that whilst separating pedestrian indoor shoppers with road cones and two metre floor stickers did at the same time conquer mighty oceans and time zones and language barriers which all did simultaneously shrivel and shrink and collapse for the first time ever, serving to connect the entire human species in its disconnectedness. Reversing the divisive function of pop-up barriers and the concocted distances between us, from one of suspicion to one of love. 

A twenty-first century city that somehow, having managed to install a cataclysmic and brilliant reflection of our unanimous lostness, etches invisible lines that enable us to be found.  

Signs form a language, but not the one you expect. And no city must ever be confused with the words that describe it. 

Lockdown love and the new tautology

Today, our seemingly baleful instincts and stand-offish inflections may in deed be powered by concern. But it is a concern for each other. For our collective wellbeing. We are co-operating not competing. Moving toward by moving away. Ours is the worry of compassion, crowned with a frown of hope. 

How courageous and intelligent and worthy of praise would Marco Polo deem the residents of global Chloe – the lockdown city as big as all Earth – who value themselves and each other so much that they quickly train their minds to betray ancient animal instincts so as to not catch the falling woman and so as to not visit lovers and so as to steer wide and even cross the street when up ahead they encounter the very brothers and sisters they most adore, miss and hold dear in absented hearts? Mentors and relatives that one may now only connect with in digital dreams. To paralyse all impulses that makes sense to the heart, to walk away into the cold unknown, yet to do so in subservience to the new twisted logic and with an unwavering faith. A faith that knows of days up ahead when we can hold one another in our arms again and be true to ourselves after this false faltering dance. 

Surely even Kublai Khan would look on in earnest admiration. For both the ruthless sage and the happy wandering snake-charmer-poet knew what we know again now. Seven-hundred and fifty years on, another story infused with echoes of China and Italy, but neither truly beginning nor ending there. Beautiful and fragile as porcelain dolls. Resolute and resilient as Tuscan marble. We are all Chinese and Italian and such commonality alone is worth a lifelong celebration. Our perceived differences were and always will be an illusion. For now, they have collapsed into desert sands like the labyrinthine garden palaces of Ozymandias. The glacial foundations of our polar separated-ness have melted away into the fast flowing energies of cascading waterfalls enticing as the nymphs of Polo’s city of Armilla. Farther apart, we are more together than ever. Before too long, the phrase social distancing will return to its rightful place in our lexicon as a grammatical oxymoron rather than the new tautology. 

In the meantime, just know that the two metre space between us may appear empty. Yet it is an emptiness full of the careful planning and thoughtful consideration that we know as our common humanity. It is an emptiness full of us.

And in any case, to suffer for love! What could be more glorious?***

Thanks for reading.

We are one

* Italo Calvino, a Cuban writer

** Galileo Galilei, an Italian mathematician

*** Jane Austen, An English novelist

mortality salience

Expectation management is a function of peace. Stress inhabits the hinterlands of unreasonable hope.

Love in a blue time

So how to bring reason to hope?

A little math. An island has a population of sixty-seven million people.

An infection sweeps across the island. It has an R-0 (R-naught) of 3. That is, its reproduction rate is three. I infect you and two others. You three infect three others each. They nine infect three others each. That twenty-seven…. You get the picture. R-0 swings neatly like a malevolent pendulum. The wrecking ball of a bulldozer breezing through the bastion of derelict buildings. At once exposing the folly of their illusory prowess. 

Such a capricious and silent storm equips all in its path with a new appreciation of what is about to be taken away. The dark illusion of permanence makes way for something lighter and more insightful – the potential for a very present and momentous joy, now trending in the phrase mortality salience.

In the early days of the latest corona pathogen and its nascent disease COVID19 – the number denoting the year of its birth, after throw-away thoughts including how cool it would be if we all had the year of our births contained in our names – GARY71 – I’m not sure about the capital letters – I began to see, faintly, a suggestion of the Fibonacci Sequence in the early infection rate – though it was easier to cut through the opacity by drilling directly down to the handy and already present lowest common denominator – the mortality rate. Or was it?

….89

Leonardo Bonacci was a Twelfth century Italian mathematician known around Pisa as Fibonacci. In the Fibonacci Sequence, each number is a sum of the two preceding ones, starting with 0 and 1. So you get the next number in the sequence by adding the last two together. 0,1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, ….you get the picture. This fractal truth about the nature of nature – and many such trackable truths – from the physical behaviour of water molecules at boiling point (Brownian motion) to the changing pitch of the ambulance siren as it first approaches and then moves away from its pedestrian audience (the Doppler effect) fires in me an advanced breed of inspiration even in its dumb repetition and a high-spirited awe even in its more loathsome applications – such as disease transmission. Bittersweet as melancholy. 

A couple months back I was green to the reporting fiasco of weekend drag, the inevitable logistical impracticalities structurally encoded into our geostrategic set-up: the disparate operations of the four countries of the union of our kingdom nation and the NHS hospital daily recordings vying with the ONS community weekly figures. Fibonacci arcs, graceful as Osiris in the eastern skies and with a symmetry as curvaceous and bountiful as sand dunes. Our counting houses do not. 

Reluctantly, and on the day that the UK death toll came in at the early seventies rather than my Fibonacci-infused prediction – 89, I switched to a more banal but reliable calculus. Basic math.

The opposite of absence

Ballpark numbers are not precision sharp but they are solid. You can’t argue with numbers for calculating timelines using known distribution rates. If I have five gifts for my five friends and I vow to give them out at a rate of one per consecutive day, you can use maths as a pretty solid calculator of the timeline along which that particular distribution will unfold. R-0 across a finite population is the same deal. We needn’t approach the UK’s version of this pandemic as entirely arbitrary even though some things are unambiguously incalculable by virtue of novelty. 

I can not be accurate. But I can lean more closely into the orbit of accuracy in its guise as something street and meaningful to me than politicians dishing out three-week extensions interminably. Numbers are not bound by such patronage. And my prediction is for me, to help lower my own expectations so as to keep my spirits up. 

Ease: an absence of difficulty or effort> Dis-ease: the opposite of ease.

The point at which the virus gives way to the disease is not clear cut. Diseases are, by definition, difficult phenomena. Our contemporary global contagion reminds me of HIV and AIDS thirty five years ago. Or strung out imperceptibly along a much more gradual timeline, the way insulin resistance gives way to metabolic syndrome today as regards the already familiar pandemic, obesity. As an onlooker there are no distinguishing features of the demarcation line where the pathogen ends and the disease commences. Back in the 1980’s with AIDS I just witnessed a cruel and sudden deterioration in those who had earlier contracted the human immunodeficiency virus.

The constants

But with coronaviruses, including this latest one, with a few months worth of global data – the short timeframe off-set by the sheer depth of the penetration among the global population of our species – we could calculate a family of mathematical constants: the average mortality rate – about 1% for COVID19 – and the upper and lower parameters of the asymptomatic percentile – pegging between a quarter and a third of all cases. All coronaviruses are not equal but these stats are good for the current contagion. We could pencil in the thresholds of activation of herd immunity: the point at which the R-0 can no longer function because so many people have already been infected such that new targets are rare. We already know that the contagion potential is 100% and that 100% is likely to be realised. And a word about nomenclature: calling what is happening now corona is like calling a lion a mammal. True but desperately inaccurate. A lion is a lion and this is COVID19.  

Basic math

We know the population of Britain. All I needed was the peak daily rate. Assuming, not unreasonably, one thousand deaths per day in the UK at peak, how long will the peak be? 

Can I hit the ballpark? Come on. It’s time to have some lockdown fun. 

Given that deaths are 1% of infections and that 1,000 people in the UK are dying each day, it is infecting 100,000 people per day. Ten of those (ten days) is a million. Sixty-seven of those ten-day “packets” is sixty-seven million people. The population of Great Britain. 

Six-hundred and seventy days. Near enough just shy of two years. Refine that down to twenty-two months and we have an error margin of just days. But then we have to refine that so much more by editing. Editing has to do with factoring in the variables that are known to exist, even if their edges are blurry. Remember, I’m just fooling around with probability because it’s a break from Netflix but its surprising how you can shoot into the mark rather than wide of it, even if it’s not quite a bullseye. 

The variables

If my math constants defy constance I am in trouble. For a start, the peak mortality daily rate is higher than a thousand. ONS + NHS data brings it in at about 1,250. So we can shave a quarter of that twenty-two month total off. People dying in prisons and care homes and at home are not hitting the mainstream TV data. The sad truth is that the faster COVID19 runs through our populous, the sooner this ends. So the length of the event timeline is inversely related to the mortality rate. And the mortality rate just went up. Each day of late, the care home data seems to grow exponentially. 

The asymptomatic group whacks off another quarter. Or so I thought at first. But, unlike peak daily death rates, the problem here is that you don’t know you are asymptomatic until after the fact. This is the very nature of the thing. So as a prognosis variable, it is useless. It will affect the nominal mortality count (by reducing it) but not necessarily the pre-established rate of 1%. Scratch that quarter.

Next, the steep curves that lead into and out of the peak account for another slice. I’m guessing about 20% because there is no bell curve. It’s more like a mountain plateau. Ten percent genesis. Eighty percent peak. Ten percent exodus. 

And not insignificantly, there is an element of over-counting that more than off-sets the hospital-centric and politically driven mainstream media under-counting.

Mis-allocation of cause of death

Given that I’m using the mortality rate as a basis for my calculations, I need to recognise a problem with it.

Many older people are testing positive for coronavirus just before they die – just as many octogenarians have any number of health problems when they die – from sensory disabilities to dementia to various cancers and heart disease – but there is a fundamental confusion between correlation and causation that cuts no lesser a chasm into the dustbowl landscape of smooth calculation than the scatterbrain blurring of the pathogen into the disease.

And since coronavirus is present when people of all ages are dying, perhaps it’s a little unfair of me to focus just on the geriatric percentile. I don’t want you getting all righteous or you’ll be missing the point I make. So a child may have appendicitis, diabetes type one or ADHD. A middle aged man like me is likely, on average UK statistics, to have obesity, hypertension or diabetes. Each age group of our species in the modern world attracts its own familiar grouping of common diseases. And people of all ages die every day, all of the time.

Coronaviruses are not COVID19 but one thing is for sure: life is a terminal illness. The second we are born we are bound to die. Just because you are testing positive for something near the time of your death can in fact yet does not necessarily mean that the thing being positively tested for is causing the event. It might. But it might not. For this gaping error that modern media-driven news agendas refuse to consider or investigate through to a conclusion, I initially factored in about a third of all cases. Listen carefully to how some of the news channels report deaths. They say something like: “Another one hundred people who tested positive for coronavirus have died today.” Potentially true but you may as well say “Another one hundred people who took breakfast al fresco have died today.” Causation is only implied. It is by no means always actualised. Your daily television news programmes very often make statements of correlation, as exemplified above, leaving you to fill in the gaps. But often, gaps contain nothing. There’s a clue in the name.

Yet, in the final analysis I scratched this as a variable – concluding that the death rate warping is merely a reporting decoy. It is not a real change in rate. It is the upshot of a misallocation of the cause of death where this year’s coronavirus is nonetheless in the room and active. It is an actuality. COVID19 may or may not have been present. That much is only a possibility. Not even a probability beyond reasonable doubt. If this were a court of law, COVID19 was in the dock and I was presiding, I would long since have asked the prosecution counsel to approach the bench for a dressing down in basic evidence gathering. If I am to train my eye purely on transmission and contraction I would do well to count, reflect, reconsider and discount as a necessary function of good math. In the end I neatly swapped this reduction variable for the herd immunity factor – which really will stop the disease in its tracks when it kicks in. 

Finally, how about all those of us who have clearly had the disease and have not been tested? This is so large in the inner city where I live and cities are now so dominant as a global habitat that I’m gonna scale up my personal experience and take a third off the final figure just on this alone. 

So in summary, just shy of two years minus various wedges of a third (herd immunity), a fifth (the bell curve genesis and exodus curves) and a quarter (the unreported out-of-hospital deaths). Those subtractions go someway to nearly halving the initial estimate, now down from twenty-two months to thirteen and a half. 

Shave off another third for the untested false negatives. The inner-city invisibles who live in the shadowlands of official statistics – forever off the radar but real all the same. That’s bang on a nine month window. Thirteen and a half multiplied by two thirds is nine. Are you keeping up?

Lockdown prognosis 

We’ll be with COVID19 in a mission critical sense, according to my little play around with simple numbers, for at least nine months after its outbreak to the extent that, from within the existing bubble of how we are thinking, we’d do well to be locking down a key selection of otherwise normal behaviours during this time. I’d imagine this means that the present calendar year is wiped and more as I see nine months instinctively as an optimistic under-calculation. This is because we are improving at social distancing and kitting up the ITU wards. This directly reduces the viral load in any one environment such that the death rate should drop off disproportionately sharper than the fall in the infection rate. We will get better at saving the lives of ill people just as we are getting better at slowing the spread. But when you slow the spread of something that is destined to spread everywhere, you are creating a longer timeline. Period. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have low deaths and quick passage. It’s one or the other. We opted for low deaths and this means slow passage. 

Or to put it another way, if our response to the disease is to behave unnaturally (lockdown) we will succeed in pushing the R-0 infection rate down from it’s natural default of three, closer to two or one. This has moved one of my fundamental constants into a variable. What’s more concerning is that if R-0 goes below the value of one, our society may enter a kind of ironic paralysis whereby the pandemic will be around indefinitely because we dare not step out and face the music. Slowing down to a standstill ain’t solving nothing. At some point, we have to look COVID19 square in the eyes. You don’t build immunity by running away and hiding. 

A vaccine would stop the whole thing pretty much at once, but such is out of sight for a year and then the problem of manufacturing the vaccine is large. You can’t test the long-term side effects of a new vaccine without letting the long-term play out in real long-term time. Vaccinated future mothers giving birth to children with defects would not be cool. Vaccine testing is slow and must be done right. It is worth noting that we have failed to ever develop a successful vaccine for many coronaviruses – so if you wanna lock down until we get one you may have a fun wait.

The contagion of death

Each Armistice day, we wear poppies and lay wreaths and commemorate the bravery of a small bunch of young men who were prepared to give their young lives so that the majority of us could live and do so with our way of life intact. Today, we are prepared to sacrifice our whole society’s entire way of life so that a small bunch of people – many without their whole lives ahead of them, do not die quite yet. Remember that we all die in any case. And is it working? In our fear-driven response – a kind of craven inverted logic to that deployed by our forefathers in Flanders we appear to be unnecessarily killing NHS workers and bus drivers along with the natural disease collateral, by creating artificial environments of super-high viral load. This is not COVID19 doing the damage. It is us. In our knee-jerk pseudo-heroism attempt to defy nature and save every last man, we are adding our own casualties to those of the pandemic, which rolls on regardless. We cannot even ever know if lockdown is working as in the final analysis we will have nothing against which to compare it. Guided by fear and determined to view death as unnatural – as the opposite of life rather than a part of life – as if death were itself some contagion to be abnegated – we have engineered the precise opposite outcome to that which we set out to achieve. A cruel truth. Yet there it is.

If you find my analysis somewhat cold, the core advantage of a mathematical standpoint is that you can remove emotion and observe behaviours in their raw states. In any case, taboos need smashing in direly emergent situations. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote a seminal masterpiece, On Death and Dying** (1969) which is worth a re-read from your position within a society that has commercialised, institutionalised and out-sourced both birth and death to the point where the latter is treated as unnatural.

Post-pandemic adjustments

And this is just the beginning of the story. We’ll be with the knock-on effects for much longer. 

As farmers pour mountains of unsold milk down the drain and as the petrol price tumbles. As parents hold off on getting their children inoculated with the measles vaccination and as hairdressers in Germany re-opened to an instant four week waiting list, a host of airports made a noise like insolvency and airlines admitted that many planes will never fly again. Computer software, rusting equipment, staff re-training and insurance plus future fuel scarcity may see a return to the jet-set era where the working classes head off to Blackpool and Brighton. And even this, in the mid-term, might be optimistic.

As farmers, devoid of the hotel and catering, restaurant and Starbucks markets, take their cows off the fields and replace the land with other crops, you might wanna, as I am, saviour the sweet taste of creamy milk, grass-fed butter, cheeses and beef because it might be a while in returning when stocks run out.

Black Friday everyday

Nine months to one year COVID19. But if you think you’re gonna jump in the family car and drive to the coast for a weekend away when it all dies down, recall those German hair salons. 

Flash forward. Everyone has extra cash. Everyone is bored and feeling celebratory. No flights. Trains are full. The roads are jammed. It will be Black Friday every day for a year. Flash back to right now. And its presently £357 for a single standard class train trip from Manchester to Brighton. That’s astonishingly expensive even in the lockdown era of low demand and low supply. Imagine what happens to prices when supplies return to normal but set against the worlds biggest ever instant all-out demand. You’ll be lucky to get within a half mile of the cinema, let alone a holiday resort. 

Praying for the end of lock-down? Careful what you wish for. 

Extinction burst

Suddenly that original calculation of six-hundred and seventy days looks prescient, if I factor in the extinction burst that will follow the contagion phase. Time spent in the chaos of the extinction burst might squarely replace that taken off by the reduction variables I laid out earlier. I love a neat sequence of numbers. 

15:01:22

Six-hundred and seventy days from mid-march 2020*. Mid-January 2022. If you’re playing the long game and managing expectations and looking to cast your nets out a little farther than this lockdown or hospital trauma or social distancing, out beyond the dairy and fuel shortages and lack of short-haul cheap flights and potential epidemics that come after an MMR vaccine drought, you can do worse than January 2022.

Be here now

Anything sooner, for me, from within the confines of my geek-boy calculation, is a bonus and there will be high levels of new opportunity and potential when the dust clears to launch new businesses that harness the value of the irrevocable changes now playing out. To live better. To slow down and to reach out more compassionately and authentically. To know more intimately the essence of humility and gratitude. To be lighter.

To be more attuned to the magic of our own bodies and the untraceable, unknowable, eternal and non-material essence of the spirit of the person they each contain. Each and every one of us. To listen and love. To let go of being scared of the fear.

For now, detach from your immediate dreams and be patient. It might not seem like it but everything always works out. Have faith. 

And be mortality salient. How? That’s easy. Be here now.

Thanks for reading. 

We are one

*I am taking mid-March to be the official curtain raiser for our acknowledgement that there was a major problem. It is also when lockdown commenced. Personally I had by this time gone in and out of the worst phases of the disease and was well on the road to recovery.

**Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: On Death and Dying (1969)

The tribulations of Zumal Denemy

The outline of a new screenplay for 2020 by Gary Knapton.

Zumal opens a gay football pub on Manchester’s Canal Street. Initially ridiculed it soon becomes a resounding success and a national franchise follows.

Zumal personifies the gap in the market and came up with the idea by “listening to his heart” as he often proudly proclaims.

The bar is called The Onion Bag, as in the colloquial reference to goal nets, and has rooms dedicated to British football greats, called Wazza (after Wayne Rooney), Gazza (for Paul Gascoigne) and The Stanley Collymore Lounge. Dancing and music are provided in the Nou Camp late lounge.

The Onion Bag is about football, not sexuality. Research suggests one in ten men are gay and football is one of the last bastions of denial. Therefore, the “straight acting” gay community must be teeming with ardent football fans who cannot truly relax whilst enjoying the game on the big screen over a few pints and Sunday lunch.

Zumal Denemy’s empire becomes a harbinger of the newly outed and Denemy himself is hailed as the “straight acting gay icon”. Canal Street, like most gay communities, from Brighton upwards, tends to pander to the camp dancefloor scene. The market for football fans is entirely wide open. 

Building on his brand, Denemy initiates a campaign to out professional footballers from England’s Premier League. It starts off as a not-too-serious nod to the long suffering gay community that everyone acknowledges must exist within top flight football. 

Before too long, however, famous names begin to filter out of the closet, and at clubs where this happens, Denemy strikes a deal to provide a “Pink Lounge” in the hospitality sections to cater for gay fans. Within two seasons, all major clubs have a Pink Lounge and some teams have a gay team. The Denemy League is soon competing with ladies football as a respectable shadow league to the first eleven.

Within five years, it is apparent that so many players and fans are of the gay persuasion that the Denemy League is draining the main game of players, so it is abandoned and fully embedded into football at all levels. 

Denemy’s Law is passed by Fifa to obligate the global integration of gay freedom into the original bastion of male macho endeavour.

WAG’s become CPABWAG’s shortened and pronounced “See Pabs”.

“Civil Partners and Boyfriends, Wives and Girlfriends”. Because no EPL gay players dare come out, how can they get married and stay under the radar? And yet….

Clubs are required to provide personal health clinics for AIDS testing and general advice on sexual health. 

“Show Homophobia the Back Door” is the strap-line of the movement to eliminate terrace intolerance. But it turns out that the demographic of the terraces is as gay as the on-pitch complexion. Pink stands and Rainbow Terraces soon begin to dwarf the facilities of the straight minority. 

Clubs even provide vetted dating environs for their gay players, known as Denemy Elite. These plush restaurants, venues and private bars/clubs are frequented by the highest calibre of gay single clients whose wealth, breeding and sexual health has been carefully vetted by Denemy International Plc, to ensure football professionals are “playing safe, even when they’re playing away”

Meanwhile, straight players begin to complain of abuse and some heterosexual professionals are found to be acting gay for competitive advantage. The “gay league” becomes “the league” and the straight male league sits third, behind the fast rising female leagues for attendance, media attention and revenues. Male gay and female football is generally acknowledged as the superior football by all the classic metrics of fitness, distribution, strategy, pass completion, spectator entertainment, competitive edge, technique and personal discipline. 

Sky TV shuts down and The Rainbow Leagues are distributed free and live to all smartphones the world over. Crowd attendances soar. The cost is £10 in and free if you prove you are on welfare benefits. 

Zumal Denemy is many things. But to some, he is just a man who has information that other people might want to have. 

Zumal has vision and the know-how to execute. His vision encapsulates the universal truth that freedom is not freedom without rules and that equality rarely succeeds amongst a species where one constructed culture will always try and dominate another. 

Gay. Straight. Male. Female. Black. White. Like, are you serious bro? 

There is no equality. Not even in fictional stories. 

See, all stories are created with sequels. But some have more sequels than others. 

TBC

Talking to hills

A short poetic narrative on a personal psychology of running outdoors up north

The Old House at Home

The hill reaches out to me, imploring me to partake in a slow embrace. 

I lean into her and like a small child disappearing into the hulk of its parent I am offered a place to rest and shelter. 

I am tired of being strong. 

Yet this is also an invitation to two-step. An intimate dance. 

In the evening sun I am carried gently up. I am lifted.

I lean in closer, where my psyche and her gradient intersect. Gold and azure flutter across my vision in the shimmering light. 

My feet like hands feeling out contours. 

The remainder of me at a levitating listening tilt. 

The remainder of her, if slopes were voices, a graduating Pennine lilt. 

Poised and attuned I proceed, enquiring with the timidity of a happy explorer. 

The heat of our relation is a vibration energy we create together: our music. 

Sooner than attempting to conquer her I humbly petition submission. A mere mortal at the altar of mother nature. 

Fathomless and majestic are hills.

Sensing my reverence, she lets me in. 

She could resist me with the forcefield of gravity or channel a gentle headwind to casually shrug me off as would a field horse to a troupe of fruit flies in the balmy heat of summer. 

Yet she lets me in. 

For I am the crucible of the mountain lotus.

I take refuge in her deity. Dharma of highest heights. Power of my power. 

With my body a sacrificial invocation I summon her.

With my heart I radiate all that she offers from above.

With my playful giddy soul I integrate the sacred fruitful emptiness of non-depending love. 

Practised is the art of leaning into hills.

I have known of runners who deploy lingua franca ultimata: of tongues that speak of digging in when they hit the wall. 

This is wonderful and eloquent and nuanced. Masculinity at its most beautiful.

I have no use for it.

I do not run in a competitive domain nor do I seek to. The nature of my enquiry is compassion not competition. 

I play my part. 

I go to hills with a feminine heart.

I am a child and the Pennine mountains that scatter the English north are a collection of single mums.

The steeper the hill the closer she holds me: the more intimate our conversation becomes.

One of my favourite dialogues is with a seven mile gentle to middling continuous climb that connects the Yorkshire mill villages of Heckmondwike and Tong via East Bierley and Drub and Hill Top. 

Of all my meditations, I most like talking to her. 

Many’s the day I can’t stop.

Should I be troubled she knows what’s wrong. I go to her, she holds me close.

She holds me long. 

When the pressures of modern life weigh heavy.

When I carry the cross I hear the call.

A guttural pull rises in my throat henceforth.

My tongue traces metal: magnetic north.

There will be a trigger: an event. 

Clouds cover the sun

And negativity will test me and most likely best me 

Lest I run.

If stillness is required I will honour it.

My blood runs cold and my skin pimples: energy chills.

At such moments it is all I can do not to take off and start talking to hills.

I have struck up very instructive conversations with the A62 between Leeds and Huddersfield.

Knowler Hill from Littletown to High Town.

Listing Lane up past Browne’s farm at Firthcliffe and then left on Fusden Lane for Cliffe and the Porkpie Chapel and out over the Heathfield paddocks. 

Hanging Heaton and Kirkby Overblow and the Gelderd Road from Gildersome out to Elland Road.

And Castle Hill. 

Hartshead Moor from Roberttown Common to Windy Bank. 

Nether Edge and Liversedge Hall Lane and Little Taylor Hall Lane and Gomersal Lane from the Mann Dam end up to The Wheatsheaf in Little Gomersal village. Steep as Knowler Hill, that! One in four. 

Dale Lane. 

The High Wood Road above Birstall village. 

Briar Woods from Windmill Lane to the old Angel. 

The New Farnley backs out to Drighlington.

Grenoside out past Top Red.

The ABC Steps from Ponderosa up to Norristhorpe village at Barber’s farm behind The Rising Sun.

Low Moor from Chain Bar to the Old House at Home.

Tintwistle at Pennine Edge via Holmfirth to Holme

Killer slants awash with conundrum and artful healing.

Knowing me before I to myself am known. 

As I start out my body often darts off into the distance like greyhounds at the track.

It is the job of my mind to pull him back.

And say “Wait. This is Antic Hay* yet this is not the way.

I lasso him into a more graceful canter.

A parched rain is this sly sheen of patient wisdom that ensnares and swerves in loops

And arcs and rainbow curves.

Like a scolded thing my body pulls up and I catch him up and on we go together.

Stronger in our unity.

Loosened by our tether.

My curious body sponging up all the base sensations of the road like he never saw another.

And my mind at the reins like mother.

Somewhere in the middle – with a few miles banked – my mind will take leave of its monitoring station and fly off at dream speed like a jail-broken convict let loose across the dark orchards of freedom. 

High-tipping it. 

And now my body must become the anchor. Slowing things up to outflank her. 

Finally, toward the end. Say, nine miles in with just a click or two to go: the reverse switch.

My body tightens up and sheepishly starts looking for get-out clauses.

Park benches. Grass verges. Any old alley. Diversionary causes. 

Sly as a cat in the sun.

Now the direction of my mental override changes from jog to run: from pull to push. 

Come on mate. It’s only ten miles. It’s hardly the summit of the Hindu Kush.**

He’s not listening. 

I don’t blame him nor do I lambast him. He’s tired. He needs a hug. 

In light brushstrokes of consciousness emulsion I focus on the hub of his forward propulsion – the glutes and calves: the piston cylinders that convert the up-down motion to a springing forward leap. 

I paint a path for them lest they fall asleep.

I zone in with laser precision and his six ham-strings do the rest. 

His stride opens up and adrenal courses through veins and off we go.

Home and dry. On reaching the crowne my body and mind drown 

In the hope and glory of a new spun story. 

Advancing armies of shade invade the hill in knowing smiles and the dying sun winks at me from a punch drunk scattergun sky.

Good old hill.

Mine host.***

How oft she and her ribbon of sisters abide to chair these long and winding mindless mindful mind/body debates. 

All three of us retire, newly bonded reprobates.

Raw thrills.

It’s funny: I don’t remember when I started. 

You know – talking to hills. 

….

Footnotes and literary references;

*Antic Hay is a glorious English classic summer novel by Aldous Huxley.

** A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby is a derring-do classic non-fiction diary account of British understatement and self-deprecating high endeavour. 

*** The phrase Mine host references John Keat’s The Mermaid Tavern – circa 1810. 

….

Zen calculus: what you will be paid and why

The five laws of giving 
a salvage mosaic from art therapy 2019

The secret garden

The house of Zen has no walls that divide, just a roof that shelters. There is no centre, yet skirting the periphery is a garden that cannot be seen, for all to enjoy. Clarity and purity emerge from the soiled confusion of earthly materials. I am the lotus flower. 

What you are worth

What are you worth? Half a mil? The sum total of your mortgage equity withdrawal, the car and your pension? Dad’s estate? The shirt on your back and the betting slip in your pocket? 

Eh. No. 

You are precisely worth how much more you give in value than you take in payment. 

Always and in all things. This is a law. There are no exceptions. 

You already know it. As a crude example and at the risk of taking you down the wrong path entirely, as an employee, if I command a salary of £50,000 and generate £80,000 in new revenue, I am worth the difference. £30K. Or as a robot making cars, if I replace a human worker salaried annually at £100,000 and I generate £500,000 a year in output whilst costing a lump sum one-off down payment of £2million, you can calculate my ten year average life span as being worth precisely £4million. That’s the difference between what I, as said robot, give in value and what I take out, or cost. I generate £5M. I save £1M in human salary. I cost £2M to buy. Five plus one less two. Four.

So the lower my salary or cost, the more I am worth? It’s not quite so simple. Besides, robots are dumb and money is binary and the wrong way of looking at it. Examples devoid of things that are self-serving and self-perpetuating might help us better;

How about outside of money? As a friend, if I listen and console and be there and never create a sense that I am owed a favour back, I am worth a lot. If I live within the you scratch my back exchange framework of market economics, I may have a posh house and a snazzy jewellery box, yet I am pretty worthless. And pretty friendless, despite the facebook digit count. And my smile will not be whole.

What you will be paid 

How much should I be paid? One of my favourites. This is the law of impact or compensation.

Well, first of all, forget the word should. This is a law, not a debate, so drop the normative sense of moral intensity. 

Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them. 

How many hearts you reach out to and into. How many people you inspire. How many dreams you ignite. The sheer quality of all of that. 

If you ever get frustrated when you read of professional footballer and celebrity icon salaries, maybe stay a while on the law of impact. Accept the law. Now breathe. This applies to you too. 

There is an element of poetic justice about the law of impact. Tit-for-tat aside: lawyers versus doctors etc, there is a palpable correlation between positive impact and earnings. Exceptions of fat cat corruption prove the rule. And it is a rule. So, if you’re big time into pieces of paper with the Queen’s head on it and the power that delivers unto thee, you are a little bit lost. Yet, to get what your lostness demands, you have to serve and impact – that is, you have to get a little bit found. Ha! Gotcha.

A good rule of thumb is to keep your eye on the serving and less so on the earning. Money is a circus and last time I looked there were a lot of clowns under the Big Top. 

If you devote much of your precious time to running around in circles for your boss so that you can get a stack of money and spend all of it or most of it on you and your kind in some bid to take your life to the next level, there is no giving here, just taking. You often experience the conviction that you are underpaid. But look at the law of impact as stated above. On the contrary!

Redefining income

A crucial additional point is that payment is not just in money. There is another type of income. When I worked the nine-to-five in media I pretty much was that guy I just described. I had more beds than bodies. More screens than pairs of eyes. More food in the freezer than I could eat in six months. A car I used only on weekends. A wardrobe I could walk through with more pairs of shoes than feet and more shirts than torso. I had a rainy day fund that somehow didn’t get spent even when the rain came. All clues that I had been overpaid in a monetary sense.

Yet there is justice. Because I had, at the same time, been compensated precisely in line with my giving – or in my case – my lack of giving. My health was poor for a young man – I was overweight and drank a lot and smoked. I was resentful and entitled – very often I felt bitter and frustrated at failing to hit my personal and professional goals. My language was poor. I swore a lot and I thought much of myself and I thought little of others. I was competitive and insular. Atomic and externalised. My relationship with myself and my relationships with my friends and family and lovers were problematic, insincere and insecure.

Your spiritual income, not just your financial income, is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them. 

When we mis-spend money and form addictions to anything from seeking approval to snorting cocaine and from smartphone separation anxiety to alcoholism to shopping to pornography to love to enhancing our reputations, we oft fail to realise the subtle dark relationship between financial income and spiritual income. When I disrespect the five laws of giving, money and spirit are commonly inversely related. They only correlate positively when I give. When I take, my money also takes. When I first intuited this universal truth, it knocked me for six. See it.

How much influence you have

So you fancy yourself as some sort of big hitter? The background bustle of the crowd drops to a hush of fervent anticipation when you speak? You’re on the board. You’re in the club. You’re on the committee. 

Eh – actually that’s just insecurity not influence. That’s all about ego. 

Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people’s interests first.

This is a law. Like gravity. Don’t argue.

If I extend myself beyond myself with abundance, I change the shape of the world. If I put myself in line for the promotion, the credit, the approval, the material prize, I change nothing. 

Have you noticed? These laws are common sense and precisely show that we have things exactly upside down. Worth. Compensation. Influence. Simple words. And we are getting their basic meanings so wrong. You and I. I am talking about us. 

Why most people are not authentic 

The only people who can even start to be authentic are those who truly intuit the implications of this law: 

The most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself. 

Don’t mis-read this as schmaltzy. It often means that the only gift you have to offer is yourself. It often means stop approaching emotional commitment like a shopping spree and packing everyone off with a gift-wrapped trending now item from Harvey Nic’s or Amazon and a card with the verse already inscribed and a birthday age or event description or favourite hobby on the front. It means listening and compassion cost more than a Netflix voucher from Tesco.

Performance does not create value. You are the value. 

Project success does not create worth. You are the success. 

Until you know this, everything dressed as authentic is vainglory and a desperate attempt to gain approval. Once you know this, everything you think and do is effortlessly aligned to the path of your true destiny. 

All your gifts are phoney and are comprised of grand gestures and tokens and demeaning monetary credits when you are unaware of what is really required to be given. You’ll give anything but what really matters in the drab obligatory ceremony of me-day merry-go-rounds that make up the calendar year, until the day you realise that you are the gift. You have to give you. And it ain’t easy.

Authenticity. You can’t fake it. You can’t make it. In much the same way as sleep is nothing more than a simple consequence of good living, I’d have it that authenticity is nothing more than the simple consequence of good giving, or more precisely, it is the state of being that references everything you touch once you sincerely and accurately intuit the nature and the origin of the entire spectrum of giving that will ever be possible for you. 

Back for the first time

Give all of you. Leave nothing in reserve. From here, the big strokes and even the mundane personal chores undertaken in private are authentically indexed. As a writer, this law implores me to leave all of me on the page. I hold nothing back. It’s exhilarating. It’s exhausting. I’m totally spent. I’m totally alive. It’s a risk and I’m taking it.

At the other end of the grandiose spectrum I change hats and become a person paying a visit to my own bathroom in an apartment where visitors are rare: this law implores me to leave the place clean and tidy and always wash my hands. Out in the world I’m helping bag laden women negotiate prams up steep stairs. I’m locating peoples lost property. What is going on? Sure I’m holding doors open and giving up my seat but now when I have a hospital appointment I’m collecting up all the unreturned frames and sticks and crutches and leg cast boots from the block. I’m buying discount food and cooking it and feeding people. I’m watching for children falling or running into the road. I can’t believe this is me. I’m more shocked than anyone as I observe me. Spectator and subject all at once. And old people are lonely and like to speak so I lend an ear and a smile. And from within my smile I reconnect with my own deeply buried sense of human loneliness. I’m taking time to hear people and see them. Yet what I am really seeing is myself.

I notice how I remember everyone’s names and the details of their plights when I stop trying to remember the details. When I start to truly listen. I’m kind and extended both when no one is looking and when everyone is present. I’m here. It’s a total transformation of me. It’s a return to the true me. A sort of homecoming.

My thoughts and concerns are for the others. They make me smile. I fade away.

Devoid of agenda, we become real. Show yourself. Come out. Observe and respect the law of authenticity. Open yourself up and become implicated.

How you can give more

You know those people who put everyone else first but are just terrible at accepting kindness and charity back? Well, they are like football fans who only celebrate their own team winning. Fully aware that my pride-driven ego is rising up as I say it, ( immodesty will always be a tool I deploy with effortless guile ) I still love how I am the only person I can think of who, as a schoolboy and university undergraduate league and employee friendly fixture player, would run over and shake the hand to congratulate the guy who had just scored against my team for the opposition. Oft to the chagrin of my team mates. And I meant it. Now that’s a goal. 

Giving is just receiving from a different angle. Winning is just losing from an alternative perspective. One is not a consequence of the other. One IS the other. If you are bad at receiving you are interrupting the flow. 

It’s time to wake up. Because when you sulk when your team loses and when you feel guilt and shame and embarrassment at unexpected kindnesses and impromptu gifts of love and when you refuse offers of help and gestures of generosity and when you delve deep into a layer of button-down resentment at the outrageous salaries of your brothers and sisters and seemingly less innocuously, when you envy the happiness of your peers, you are interrupting the flow. You are doing it.

The key to effective giving is to stay open to receiving. 

This is a law. Obey it then. Let’s all get in flow and create a wave. It isn’t easy to accept. But then, neither is the law of gravity when things fall on your head. We have work to do. 

Thanks for reading.

we are one

…..

Literary references and thanks;

  • The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann. Thank you Nicola for inviting me into your beautiful home and gently leaving this book for me to find and keep.
  • The Return of The Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by Henri J M Nouwen. Thank you Father Frankie for hosting such a loving and instructive Alpha course and retreat at St James Catholic church in Salford this winter. My heart is open.
  • The Four Noble Truths: Buddha
  • The Jewel Tree of Tibet: Robert Thurman

Ways to the stone house

Whatever your life means to you; its heart and purpose were hewn in a wild workshop with simple tools, out of homely materials. You found a stone block on a solitary moor and with time and labour you chipped away to fashion your deepest dreams and treasures.*

Yet, if you take stock, you’ll see it’s half human, half rock. Utterly terrible and almost beautiful, for its colouring is of moonlight and running blood. Moorland heather clothes it and heath, with its blooming bells and balmy fragrance creeps in perpetual growth to the doorstep where you have laid a welcome mat. 

Additional features, inanimate and creatures and whole other buildings you crafted to embellish the estate: a slate-roof keep-safe constructed by you alone from timbers of love and psychological stone. Too gut-wrenching to even consider the loss of the things you have placed inside. 

Bungalows for elders. Drawing rooms for guests. Sumptuous bedouin tents for lovers. Tree houses and nurseries for the magical children. Think of the children! Adults conjoin. Then, nine times the moon doth wax and wane and here they are. You made and grew them yet you didn’t. Inexplicable and precious and fleeting and happening now. Considering life makes your heart quicken. Was it egg before chicken? Whose milk drinketh the cow? 

Edwardian style pavilions boast generous presentation rooms that display your certified gains and other proud achievements. A scullery of wins. A parlour full of good deeds and halls bedecked with tarpaulin to cover over your sins stand darkened and padlocked up. Away from prying eyes. Such is the way of your secrets and lies. 

Out on the tops beyond the crags a resplendent amphitheatre in the Roman style affords you the luxury of parading your finest hours of glory to an audience of thousands. Outhouses tail off across the valley packed full of kitchens of sinks of dirty dishes, near dells of hopes and wells for wishes. 

A five star hotel, all rooms en suite with elm balustrades and pine floors and teak communicating doors accommodates your goals. Gardeners snip pods of peas for pottage and at the head of the main driveway a limestone gatekeeper’s cottage guards the thoroughfare, taking its tolls. 

Follies and bandstands and high-arch bamboo Japanese footbridges over fast running stony brooks enshrine your deep-set regard for reputation and looks.

Look there! A marble pillared mission hall where all of your needs for approval and permission fall on oak and ash pews set neatly up for the almighty and metered out with royal blue Christian prayer books over felt-sewn kneeling cushions aside an altar where all your faiths and trusts and knowings falter. 

Then, all too soon, hard knocks and doubt, too sticky to be cast out, made you build a baggage room. A room that, no matter how often you seek to better insulate, doth leak. 

A low slung modernist penitentiary pebbledashed in Penistone potash and gypsum and silica and sunk into a clough where badgers and rabbits bolt, residents as different as coal from salt, locks away your fears. You lower your voice each time you pass by its perimeter landscaped bushes. All whispers and hushes and furtive-glanced blushes. For, even barred prison cell windows have ears. 

Baroque galleries and Victorian red brick town house chambers confine to safe storage red letter days and Kodak moments in washed out yellows and greys. All mellow and haze. The first time we met and that feeling you get and they’re playing our song. In summer, strewn along wide willow lined boulevards run lush beds of shrubs and those white flowers he loves that you planted and watered and grew. Who knew! 

And at the very centre of this precocious caravanserai of the utmost things and no-things that call the tune of heartstrings, your flagship mainstay quarters. All else built yet this you had to sculpture. A monumental manse of meaning, cavernous and future-proofed with your bespoke sepulchre. 

This is your stone house and as it ages and the rock turns sable under the water weathered years of moss and obligatory meaningless dross you have begun to ask yourself questions of grace and mortality: Can an old ruin continue to have a history? Can these bones live? Can an old fool sit easy with mystery? Can beggars give? 

There are two ways to the stone house**. Each has a cost. You are presently already half-way down one of them. Or further. Or just starting out. The other is barely perceptible. A sunken rut where the grass is too green to believe. I’d wager: this is where a carriage road ran a hundred years back. Could there have been cobbles for a pony and trap? Did the pavement walls tumble and the brickwork get tossed? It’s hard to tell. This old path is disused yet worn. Forgotten. Grown over. Neglected. Lovelorn.

Losing itself. But not lost.  

Stay awhile and take the air. Look closer. There’s a map in the undergrowth. A very map of this particular way to the stone house. The directions read peculiar yet somehow they make sense to the reader for whom they were written. But who wrote? It doesn’t matter. In the place of spatial direction, guidance for the spirit, and I quote:

‘Swing into reverse and undo everything. Now stop and stand and let the layers of your identity peel off into the sun. On presumption and assumption you are grown fat. Break into the red room for the entire roll of photographs that shot the paths you took up to this point in this life. Now grab the negatives and hereafter copy that.’

The map goes on;

‘Be thoughtless because the thieving thoughts make off with your unique and scarce attention. And stop caring and being reasonable that you might care less about vanities and see properly the others. Your fabulous, flowering, fading sisters and brothers. And what be reason but the mechanics of an ego immense? Heed this guide if only for the fact that it is not common and it does not make sense.’

This is a way and one less traveled to the very heart of your heart that should you, one electric blue spring day dare to venture in accordance with yond riddled chart, will be born again entirely. You alone. Nobody can coach. The thing about the stone house is not the content nor the location, nor the quality nor the quantity. It’s how you approach. 

So get lost without the urge to be found and remember how to forget things and set a reminder to learn how to lose track of time. Ask dumb questions. Be indecisive. Shatter coerced promises. Cut corners. Etch curves. Move away from the fools. 

There are two ways to the stone house. 

Go on. Break the rules. 

Thanks for reading.

We are one

*These first two paragraphs are borrowing so heavily from Currer Bell’s 1850 preface to that year’s edition of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Height’s that it seems disingenuous to claim a paraphrase. Plagiarism, more like, save for this footnote. 

** Sylvia Plath’s autograph journal of 1958 records her visit to Haworth in West Yorkshire. In it she refers to the various ways of reaching Top Withins and uses the phrase that I use to head this article. It inspired Simon Warner’s 2012 artistic ensemble of photographs that appeared in the Brontë Parsonage Museum. Simon’s exhibit was called Ways To The Stone House and is the ignition and inspiration for my article. 

Ghost tales in echo

An extract from Nothing To Eat But God: a family diary of immigration by Gary Knapton

And two days later as a red dawn broke across the windswept skies, I knew my prayers were answered. Beauty is a storm called hope. 

Aeons of love and fortitude and forty-eight hours earlier I had knelt on obsidian slabs of granite inflected with onyx and quartz feeling cold and heavy as bodies, the hulk of my own body reflected neatly back up at me each time my gaze fell to the heart-shaped cavity between my touching knees. 

I made to focus on that small black pocket of stone-glass, diminished as I was in stature and reason and all the normal ingredients that make me up. 

Save him or take him. Whatever pleases you, my Lord. But make it so we find the strength to come out the other side. And make it so Kyra is safe and make it so the whole family pulls through such that we each of us get to see freshly torn baby blue skies and hear each other’s laughter born of things yet unimagined. Let this pass and give us yet more. Amen

My demands upon the heavens had grown increasingly erratic over the summer newly fallen. Wider, more distant reaches of my extensive Irish family had been inviting me to dine with them in what I had initially interpreted as respect for my mother who had always been, and very much still was and is, the one everyone turned to, but increasingly more so of late. Yet the story I made up in my head as comely gestures of signal gratitude and seniority were just that. For it is the novel guest that gets to say Grace at table and the word had gotten out that I had gone off-script. 

Listen to Gary. He’s talking to God in a new way. You’ve never heard the like. Have him at your table. A slow-cooked lamb should do it. Word has it that he’s craven or in earnest and both. And neither. But it’s a high west wind that runs through him of late. 

Across the farmlands of Mayo and Clare, the high west is the prevailing Atlantic breeze that makes landfall each springtime with ghost tales in echo of the men who built America. They say that such tongues of hope cast a spell of good luck and do not put the Good Book out of joint as much as furnish it with a new fire.

Such references were made of me and summoned to dine I was. I accepted every invitation and re-jigged the clashes so that none were missed. A good lamb is a gift horse and the famines still ran fresh in the memory of our bloodline. One in four had been taken in the seven years ending in 1845 by the Phytophthora infestans fungus that wiped out the potato harvests. One million men, women and children died of starvation and another million driven to run from the hills in search of food.

The English are no strangers to ration mentality. Cakes made of carrot and crumble pies (pudding without need of eggs) are still commonly taken here on the big isle. But the Irish knew starvation not rations. Epigenetics is the concept of subconscious behavioural memory visited upon timeless future generations of our species. I have always eaten eggshells and orange peel and fistfuls of salt and I always did and still do like nothing better than tripping my tongue and ripping my teeth through the cold flesh of uncooked rashers of bacon boxfresh from the farm shop or store. I enjoy the shrill metallic urgency enshrined in the taste of my own ferrous blood whenever it runs from wounds. And I am proud of my animal instinct. I like being like this.

Yet my forefathers were boiling the wallpaper to use for soups and eating their pets and worse that I might have the good sense to censor from this extract, though not from the unedited tale at large. 

When I visited my great uncle Willy in the remote village of Portlaw just outside Tramore in County Waterford just twenty years back, half of the roof of his cottage was torn off but he was living quite happily on a diet of freshly chopped cats in the fridge and in the cupboard under the stairs a mountain of Guinness bottles that the local pub would deliver down his coal chute directly from the street. He was paid in black beer and the cats ran amok in his tiny country cottage near the mighty ocean. Fresh meat. He even named them and made free about who he was going to eat next. He wore a suit and stood tall and his complexion was the finest I ever saw for a man of his age. What a lovely authentic bloke, God rest his soul. Fit as a fiddle to the end and what a way to live! Famine and starvation don’t just change people. They change the nature of behaviours and values right down the family tree-lines. Forever. Nothing tastes like real hunger such that progeny arrive in the world encoded with memories as fresh as if they were first person encounters. Darwinian no less. What resilience must reside within us!? I am in awe.

When you’re truly hungry, you’ll eat anything, said Paddy, a sweet and quiet man who used to cycle past me as I headed to the swimming pool on the dual carriageway at Spenborough. He off to mow the church lawns at Our Lady of Unfailing Help in Cleckheaton. Me off to dive the top box and springboards at the deep end in a bid to scare myself and impress Siobhan Ferguson who had recently developed breasts. The year was 1984.

Immigrants: Paddy and Maur’ with kids Eileen, Billy and Mary

Paddy, my granddad, long since passed, had known real hunger and his eldest daughter Mary, my mum, had known something they called hardship that would arrive and depart unrecognised to the likes of you and I as way beyond any imaginable form of food deprivation yet didn’t merit the S word to this lot. 

One hundred years after the last famine, fear of the next ran so deep that Irishmen swept up their families and left their homelands forever, arriving en masse across a swipe of northern England from Liverpool to Lincoln in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Two ancient Celtic drainage channels ran over peat bogs so discharging dank dark waters into the Irish sea on either side. Both urban areas on each island book-ending that sea given the same name. Dubh-Linn is derived from the Irish (Gaelic or Gaeilge) for our words black and pool. Near identical latitudes of 53.8 and 53.3 degrees north, respectively.

Mum got boated to England and boarded at a nunnery with her sister while her parents stayed on in Ireland to gather enough funds to get themselves across for good. Their older brother coursing a similar journey and then all other siblings born thereafter coming into the world as English natives. 

My Mum at twenty-two holding my cousin Andrea

The bigger part of the island of Ireland is a republican free state with its own currency and language. It recognises no monarchy. It is not part of the UK. It takes no laws from London. 78.3% of the nation is Roman Catholic. Before taking up the Euro in 1999 its currency (Pfund) was one of the few consistently stronger than Sterling. Its police force is called Garda Síochána pronounced in English as Garda Civil. (plural Gardai). Scotland is named after an Irish clan and it was Ireland that brought literacy to Great Britain before the Romans and the English arrived. Fighters and writers. The Emerald Isle. My mum arrived as an immigrant teenager and even after all these years her passport still says “British Subject” not “British Citizen”. London seized part of the island when King Henry shipped in the Protestant Scottish in high number in a smart move to protect Protestant England from (Catholic) Spanish, French and Portuguese invasion. Locals were evacuated. This geo-strategic colony guards the Irish sea, much like Malta and Gibraltar serve as sea-lane garrisons. It is known as Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is run from London, has British voting rights, the pound Sterling and English as its first language. It is secular Protestant with an Anglican branch of C of E called The Church of Ireland. Northern Ireland is roughly one quarter size of The Republic of Ireland and they share a land border.

Here come the Catholics. Raucous and unkempt and giddy and raw. No home to go back to and nothing to eat but God. Yorkshire was Viking and Irish if ever a tale rang true. And the bells tolled for mass and we ate like ravenous kings and princes. And still do. Irish eyes are smiling.

In 2018 I dined at a dozen guest houses that first summer and a dozen more the summer that followed. And as outdoor running is my pleasure, I killed two birds and drew a map of upland Yorkshire and ran all day to the house of an uncle or great aunt or second-cousin twice removed. And we ate and I blessed the gathering with Grace at table and I slept at the pleasure of my host under their roof and I got up in the morning and showered and ran over the moors to the next.

And this was my way of paying homage to the Great Hunger yet the religion that filled the hole in our bellies spread out to own a bigger part of us than that devoured by any animal need for sustenance. So it was that when Declan fell to his deathbed I fell to my knees in prayer. Old habits live long. And even well-fed stocky Lords take their last breath from this world. 

But I had also learned how to listen for prayers in the answering. Either that or I was born knowing it. Like some can read clock-time in the sun or navigate the sea from stars. This is divining and diviners need access to their own crazy versions of the divine.

And the whispering wind in the leaves of the trees and the ripples that build across the mill ponds and the crimson flood mornings that arrive out of season and catch the weatherman all forlorn. At sixes and sevens. Question marks for eyebrows and a faltering grin. 

So it was that two days later as a red dawn broke across the windswept skies, I knew my prayers were answered. Beauty is a storm called hope. 

….

An extract from Nothing To Eat But God: a family diary of immigration by Gary Knapton