Favourite quotes

He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Friedrich Nietzsche – Beyond Good and Evil

Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

I was going to publish this as is because I was feeling lazy but instead I think I’ll take a few minutes to explain why they resonate with me as they do.

Nietzsche’s quote has been known to me for decades but only recently has its appeal become personal. Doing the job that I do I encounter ‘monsters’ and not just as physical manifestations (violent abusers, hardened criminals) but also in themes across society. An underlying culture of cruelty and indifference applied by ‘the powers’ against the poorest and the most vulnerable. I see evil. I see wickedness. I see exploitation and abuse. I see all of the things which people who are sleeping safely in their beds on a night do not see. My colleagues and I combat these things.

Nietzsche reminds me to temper my response to wickedness and violence. It reminds me that I have to be the ‘good’ vs ‘evil’ and that my methods must remain true. One cannot fight with a monster by becoming the same as the monster. One must be conscious of one’s methodologies in that fight.

Thomas’ quote is clearly referencing death. I have seen death. Too much personally and too much professionally. Every day above ground is a gift. Every new dawn a privilege. This reminds me that old age is not guaranteed and that we don’t all make it that far. It instils in me a desire to fight for every last day, every last breath. Do not go gentle…

Favourite photograph from 2020

I love this. Taken in June 2020 on a rainy summers day. We took a trip to Thorp Perrow arboretum. The weather flitted between showers and sunlight hence why Lucas is wearing his rain coat. He loved to explore. He’s a real adventurer.

This photograph is beautifully framed and edited to bring to life the light through the trees. Little Lucas looks to be enjoying tramping and exploring the surroundings.

How was your weekend?

I’ve been sat looking at this blank page for 30 minutes trying to think of a way to sum up my weekend. Between domestic violence, assault and sex offenders, its been a fairly standard weekend.

Crazy, huh? That violence, assaults and sex offenders can be seen as ‘standard’ but welcome to the world of the police constable.

Saturday and Sunday dayshifts made up my ‘weekend’. When most people are choosing to kick back and relax, have a beer or fire up the barbeque, my colleagues and I are strapping on body armour and facing down threats to society.

I walked back into the house on Sunday evening and tried to switch off the awful things I had seen. One difficultly you face doing my job is keeping your family safe from your trauma. It is traumatic. It may be that someone else has suffered a beating or someone else’s children have been abused, but we are all human beings and you cannot help but feel a small part of the trauma that victim’s feel. Some choose to speak to their loved ones about their experiences. Others choose to keep things to themselves. Some will fall somewhere between these two extremes and give sanitised accounts of what has happened during a normal day at work.

Saturday was spent dealing with a domestic incident where someone broke into a flat belonging to the family of his ex-partner and damaging items within. Burglary is not a crime against property – despite what people may think. Having your telly nicked is only part of the story. Someone has violated your private property. What else did they do in your home? Will you ever feel safe again? Its easy, when you’ve been to twenty burglaries, to forget the human impact of this crime. Victim’s often feel very vulnerable. The place they should feel safest suddenly feels very unsafe.

Sunday morning a young man was violently assaulted walking home in broad daylight. A bright and sunny day and suddenly your peace comes to an end at the hands of unknown attackers. Working with ambulance crews to ensure the safety of the victim is the priority before trying to locate suspects. CCTV enquiries, witness appeals, searching the location for evidence of the attack. Just as people are settling down with a cuppa and the Sunday papers, officers are sifting through the dregs of violence on the streets of small-town England.

As most are thinking about Sunday lunch my colleagues and I were considering the best approach to an online paedophile hunting group operating a ‘sting’ in the town. Its not as simple as ‘bad man do bad thing,’ there’s far more to it. Arrest, gather evidence, seize electronic equipment, consider the community impact, safeguard victims and also safeguard suspects. There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes. Most people just see a Facebook livestream of the ‘sting’ but not the hours, days, months of work that goes into the subsequent investigation.

I walked back into the house on Sunday evening tainted by the things that I have seen.

How was your weekend?

Three goals for next year

Let’s be honest here. 2020 has been a strange and terrible year. From the millions of acres of land destroyed in Australian brush fires, to the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, to the official withdrawal of Great Britain from the European Union, to the Harvey Weinstein scandal, to the coronavirus outbreak which has seen 700,000+ deaths worldwide, to the widespread disorder in Hong Kong, to the global #blacklivesmatter movement proving that the fight for civil rights and equality is still a struggle in the 21st century, to the… take breath, 2020, you’re only half done.

I think that you will all agree that we are living in most interesting times.

Roll on 2021 and a promise of better times for all of us. The sooner we put 2020 behind us the better for all humanity.

What am I hoping to achieve in 2021? Let’s talk about something positive.

Joe. I referenced my brother Joe in my last post. He lives a long way from here and between life, jobs and financial issues we have not seen each other for several years. Off the top of my head I can’t recall our last meeting. That situation needs to be fixed. Lucas will be two when 2021 starts and he’s never met his uncle Joe. Next year we shall meet. Be that here or there or someplace in between, the situation must change. My first plan for 2021 is a reunion with my brother.

Holidays. No summer holiday for us in 2020 and my planned trip to Kiev, Ukraine in October is looking like it may fall flat too. The requirement to quarantine for 14 days is just too much of an ask. People gotta work, you know? What was a promise of fun and adventure with my pals is looking bleak. We should be going to Portugal in September but that too is unlikely. Flights get cancelled, the government doesn’t know where it stands on the subject of air-bridges and their decisions are typically no sensical. The recent reintroduction of a Spanish quarantine came on a day Spain had significantly less deaths than the UK. It’s just not worth the risk of booking flights knowing we could be denied a chance to travel that same day.

A proposal? And not an indecent one ala the 1993 Robert Redford/Demi Moore ‘drama’. Fran keeps promising to make an honest man of me. Don’t tell her, but maybe, just maybe, 2021 is the year the question of ‘will you marry me’ gets asked.

What are your goals or aims for 2021?

My Family

Oof. This might be long. I come from a big family. Not big as in Victorian England big, but big compared to most modern western families. I’m going to ignore the extended family for this as there is not enough time in the day or the year, for that matter, to cover all. Additionally I’d be sure to forget someone given just how large the clan extends. To give that some context, at my Gran’s funeral many years she was mourned by twelve children, over fifty grandchildren and a dozen great grandchildren. Those numbers have swelled in subsequent years (and that doesn’t consider the paternal side of my family or my stapdad’s family either!). So let’s keep this closer to home.

First there’s Fran and I – we have a child, Lucas. I also have a child from a previous relationship; Thomas. That’s our core. I’ve always been so pleased with how welcoming Fran has been towards Tom. She doesn’t treat him like her own child and he’s not so I wouldn’t expect her to do so, but she’s kind, patient, considerate and interested. I can’t ask for more than that.

Tom doesn’t live with us but we see him as often as possible – actually, that’s a lie. He’s 13 this month and has his own life. We see him when he can fit us into his busy schedule, which is not as often as I would like. Here he is yesterday with Lucas. Lucas loves him a lot.

Outside of our little group I have my Mum and step-dad. They’re the glue that tries desperately – and often fails – to hold us all together. I say us all as my Mum was blessed with four sons:

  • Me
  • Michael
  • Eton
  • Ellis

I also have another brother, Josef, who is from my Dad’s second marriage. I’ll write more about Joe another time. I wish he was very much an inclusive part of the family but we live so far away and have such different lives it’s a struggle.

Mike is the main cause of angst within our family. There’s a divide between us and it causes anguish for my parents. I’ve wrote a lot about Mike and our non-relationship in the past. It is a constant source of torment:

https://alsarcastic.com/2016/08/14/family/
https://alsarcastic.com/2016/07/16/fatherhood-iii/
https://alsarcastic.com/2016/07/20/a-nice-day-for-a-white-wedding/

We are currently still estranged. I think about him often but I cannot bring myself to set aside my principles for an easy life.

Eton is the first child from my Mum’s second marriage. Half-brothers is such a terrible term. He’s my brother and always has been. Perhaps due to the age difference we don’t see each other often. We have different friends, different interests, different lives – despite sharing a career. He knows I’m there is he needs me.

Ellis is the youngest of us. He has struggled with mental health for the last decade and it’s been tough for all involved. He’s getting better, he’s outgoing, smart, passionate. I have a lot of love for the wee guy. Its sad that he hasn’t developed into the charming, successful, independent man he was destined to be, but that is down to mental health and beyond his control.

Here we are: Eton, Ellis, Byron, Lucas, Al (me), Laura, Mum and Fran.

They say you can choose your friends but not your family. You get what you’re given. Tell me about your family. Do you get on with them?

 

 

 

 

 

Three Favourite Songs

EVERLONG by FOO FIGHTERS

Two of my favourite Foo Fighters tracks are on the ’97 album The Colour and the Shape. ‘Everlong’ just beats out ‘My Hero’. The latter is more anthemic but ‘Everlong’ tugs at the soul. It’s felt as much as heard. It starts low and builds to a quick paced beat which sits at odds to the slow rhythm of Grohl’s lyrics.

Breathe out
So I can breathe you in
Hold you in

It’s majestic.

KNOCK ME DOWN by RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS

After first hearing Red Hot Chili Peppers late 1991 following the release of Blood Sugar Sex Magik, I went back through their previous releases. Released in 1989, Mother’s Milk is the band’s fourth studio album and ‘Knock Me Down’ stands out on that album as one of my all-time favourite songs. Like most songs I like it’s the lyrics which stick. The Chili’s are not well known for lyrical brilliance and they make up any glaring gaps in quality penmanship with large doses of showmanship. ‘Knock Me Down’ spoke to me:

Don’t be afraid to show your friends that you hurt inside, inside
Pain’s part of life, don’t hide behind your false pride
It’s a lie, your lie

It’s an excellent inclusion on one of the Red Hot Chili Peppers finest albums.

IRIS by GOO GOO DOLLS

Released in 1998 as part of the soundtrack for the film City of Angels, ‘Iris’ was huge and by far and away the most well-known song from the band. I can’t remember when I first heard it but the song featured prominently in my period of self-destruction following the death of Clare. The opening words said what I was feeling far more eloquently than I ever could:

And I’d give up forever to touch you
‘Cause I know that you feel me somehow
You’re the closest to heaven that I’ll ever be
And I don’t want to go home right now

Whenever I hear ‘Iris’ I think of her.

What I’m afraid of

Far from fearless I do consider myself to be ‘brave’. Doing the job I do I have to put aside my concerns around self-preservation to a degree. When there is a man with a knife everyone runs away. I’m required to head towards danger when everyone else moves in the other direction.

Nelson Mandela said:

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

I’m often scared but I have to overcome that fear and proceed. To the outsider it looks like fearlessness but there is a difference between being fearless and being brave.

What does frighten me? Am I afraid of death? No. I am concerned that should I die my family will lose a sizeable chunk of its income and I would hate for my children to grow up without their father. But death doesn’t scare me. Eventually, everything and everyone dies. Why would you be frightened by that? It is inevitable. The only thing not certain is the timing of the event.

I have long considered myself a proud atheist and have poured scorn on those who cling to the notion of god and heaven. The ‘afterlife’ is a device designed to prevent fear of death, but understanding that the only thing after life is oblivion is, in a perverse way, comforting.

Oblivion is the absence of pain, the absence of fear, the absence of caring. Its difficult to fathom being the self-aware species that we are.

I’m not afraid of death but I am afraid of pain. I have never liked pain. I am afraid of heights. I can’t climb a ladder without quaking with fear. Its not irrational either. Heights equal falling and falling equals pain.

Give me death and oblivion over falling and pain.

Perhaps that’s a bit bleak and morbid. In my next post I will tackle something much more fun!

#BlackLivesMatter

A global movement coming to the forefront of public consciousness as we were in the midst of a global pandemic. It’s like the End Times writ large. We are only missing a bloody good war and the end of the world would be upon us.

Much has been said about the BLM movement and on both sides of the argument. I was at a rally recently established in support of Black Lives Matter. A counter demonstration turned up to protest against BLM; or rather to claim that All Lives Matter. All Lives do indeed Matter.

But that is entirely not the point of the BLM movement. Black Lives Matter does not claim that black lives matter more than any other life, rather they highlight one important fact: In society, especially in American society, black lives do not matter anywhere near as much as white lives do.

Racism is systemic. We are born to find comfort and companionship in those who are like us. Its older than society and in truth a survival mechanism dating back to the first human tribes. There was strength in numbers and safety in belonging. We have moved on significantly as a society from our cave dwelling past, but those lessons are hard to unlearn. I would guess that we are all guilty of some racism; not born out of xenophobia but out of that millennia-old necessity to belong. We see people as different. We are encouraged to celebrate diversity. Personally, I don’t care if you’re black, white, purple or green. I don’t care if you like men, women or inanimate objects. I care less about which god you choose to believe in or which prophet you choose to follow. To me, being kind is what matters.

The core focus of Black Lives Matter can be summed up like this. Shouting that All Lives Matter when someone says Black Lives Matter is like saying ‘save all forests’ when someone says, ‘save the rainforests.’

Yes, all forests matter, but it’s the rainforest which is being decimated and destroyed. When you consider that a man born black in the United States has a one in a thousand chance of having their life ended by a police officer you can understand why people may come out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

#BlackLivesMatter

My dream job

Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. The long hours fraught with danger, the lack of privacy, the huge impact on family life, missing birthdays and Christmas. I.. just.. love it. No, seriously, despite the sarcasm, I do. I get to make a real different to the lives of people and I play a part in protecting the most vulnerable in society.

But what – if I wasn’t doing what I do – would be my dream job?

I wish I ran my own business. I love gaming, the internet and internet forums. I recently set up Strategy Gaming Network as a community for people to talk about strategy games. I would love to be able to do that fulltime. It wouldn’t be a job. To quote that other famous Job:

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” – Steve Jobs

I’m lucky in that I love what I do. But I would love to run a forum and write about games as a full time profession too.

What is your dream job?

Three favourite books

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks

This is quite possibly – along with book three in this list – what got me into science fiction in a big way. I was in my mid-teens when I first read Consider Phlebas and it opened up the universe of Banks in such a big way that I developed a voracious appetite for The Culture. So much that character names from his books have featured in numerous online ventures. Names like Horza, Zakalwe and Excession.

The epic scale of a war spanning light-years sets the back drop of the story of Bora Horza Gobuchul and his quest to locate a renegade Mind lost on one of the famous Planets of the Dead controlled by the elder Dra’Azon species.

The war sets the scene but the book is really a collection of short stories chronicling Horza’s adventures. The Temple of Light, the Megaship, the Eaters, the Damage game, the Command System. Horza’s escapades are numerous and Bank’s prose is both humorous and epic in scale.

What’s interesting – from the perspective of a Culture novel – is that Horza is an enemy of the Culture, choosing to fight for the Idiran’s in their holy war as the Idirans are ‘on the side of life’. This is a precursor to future Culture novels which a focused around the Minds which control that utopian society. For a first book to feature the enemy of your primary series protagonists is a bold step.

Thoroughly entertaining if ultimately futile as set out in the epilogue of Consider Phlebas, Horza’s escapades get 10 from 10 and a thorough recommendation.

 

 

Wonderland Avenue by Danny Sugerman

Wonderland Avenue hit me right in the feels during my tumultuous late teens. Handed to me by a friend I immediately fell in love with Sugerman’s portrayal of life with Jim Morrison of the Doors, and more importantly – both to the book and to me – his relationship with his father. 

The book opens with Sugerman’s childhood and his difficult familial relationship and quickly introduces the music of the Doors to the reader. This was also a commentary on the impact of popular music on society and how it heralded social change. 

Sugerman casts off the protection of his family and strikes out on his own falling under the wing of Morrison. It charts his rise – much to the disgust of his father – in the music industry, his encounters with drugs, relationships with other personas from the music scene and his ultimate fall from grace. 

The book had my crying with laughter; Sugerman’s description of Iggy Pop in a dress chopping up a car with an axe is a firm favourite moment for the sheer hilarity. As is Sugerman’s call to the police to report his car stolen only for it to dawn on him that it’s in a house in Laurel Canyon having been driven off the road and through the roof. Wonderland Avenue is replete with comic set pieces which will have you laughing your ass off. 

But there is also genuine sadness in the book. Estranged from his father and brother, hooked on narcotics, Sugerman’s demise and redemption was both joyous and difficult to read. It brought back personal feelings of remorse as to my own relationship with my father. 

And when I turned the final page I cried tears for both Danny and for me. 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

I can’t remember when I first read Hitchhikers. It was a long time ago. Funny, very English, and science fiction which borders on science fantasy. It’s the story of Arthur – a fairly average chap – who embarks on a whirlwind adventure with Ford Prefect, a researcher for the titular Hitchhiker’s guide (which has the words ‘DON’T PANIC’ in large, friendly letters on the cover.)

Adams wit is absurd, the plot borderline insane, but the true and very real message of Hitchhikers is largely what makes its appeal.

You see, to Adams, the universe is a joke and nothing actually really matters. Earth is bulldozed to make way for a hyperspace freeway, a towel is the most important thing a traveller can own, and The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42.

In many respects, Adam’s writing is nihilistic. It’s designed to show our place in the universe doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make a difference. There’s futility in the message but it’s wrapped up in the warm & comfortable prose of a writer at the top of his game.

You can enjoy Hitchhikers for the many jokes, set pieces, wry humour. For the offbeat characters such as Zaphod Beeblebrox – the two headed, three armed Galactic President and Marvin the Paranoid Android who dwells in the depths of depression. Or you can see it as it is meant to be; a treatise on the scope of the universe and how little, how so very little, we small humans matter.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

What is your favourite book? Share in the comments below.