Bored with literature? Some suggestions for making reading interesting again.

I have been a second-hand bookdealer for 25 years. I have had hundreds of conversations with people who are bored with what they are reading. Some of these people read mainly literature and over the years I have come up with some suggestions to get them back into reading some sort of quality fiction. TRY SOMETHING  LESS CHALLENGING. Some people tire of literary novels with dozens of inter-related characters and loads of sub-plots which make the reader feel they need to concentrate all the time. Try one of these pre-novel classics – Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais, Don Quixote by Cervantes or Boccaccio’s Decameron in a good modern translation. Reading self contained episodes with only minimal progression to the story line can be a breath of fresh air for some. I am a fan of Rabelais and his Gargantua and Pantagruel is one of the maddest, most bawdy and surreal books I have ever come across. It is also hilariously funny in parts. All three titles will take you into a world quite unlike most novels, can be dipped into at your leisure and you do not need to have your thinking head on to read and enjoy them. TRY A DIFFERENT WORLD OR PERSPECTIVE I am amazed at how many people who come into my shop have only considered literature written in English. I am a huge fan of Spanish, Portuguese and South American literature. If you can get your hands on Clarice Lispector’s Hour of the Star, Machado de Assis’s Epitaph of a Small Winner or Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate you could be in for a treat unlike any English novel you have ever read. Whether it is Spanish or African, French or Chinese give some foreign literature a go. STOP TRYING TO PROVE HOW HIGHBROW AND LITERARY YOU ARE As a teenager I ploughed my way through Dracula and decided life is too short to read supposedly great and important  books just so you can impress other people. Ask anyone who has read Finnegan’s Wake if this is true. Don’t turn your nose up at quality fiction. In my Historical Romance section you will find Dorothy Dunnett who has written a House of Niccolo series which has been described by some as literature. Likewise Patrick O’Brian and his Aubrey and Maturin series found in the Historical Thriller section. Or you could dip into some Sherlock Holmes which will give you some of the best short stories ever written. Some customers just needed to take time out and to start enjoying reading again without worrying about their reputation. Which leads neatly into…….. TRY HAVING A BREAK FROM LITERATURE Science Fiction? You don’t want to read about intergalactic spaceships battling it out to save the universe and neither do I but you could try Philip K Dick’s Counter Clock World. He is a very limited writer but with more original ideas than any writer I know. Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is better written and thought provoking in a different way, and if you want something different again there is Peter F Hamilton’s Greg Mandel trilogy. Mandel is a psychic detective operating in the near dystopian future and the series is, without a doubt, the best example of mixing two literary genres that I have come across. I could suggest P G Wodehouse, Margery Allingham or John Buchan who have a foot under the  literature table but can also be classified as humour, crime or thriller respectively. TRY SOMETHING SHORTER Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, a classic if ever there was one and not much longer than a hundred pages. Or how about The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway? Or Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad? Many great writers have written short novels and some customers have dismissed such works because they are not deemed substantial enough. Concentrate on quality over quantity and vastly increase your chances of both finishing and enjoying the literature that you read. TRY UNCONVENTIONAL STYLES OF WRITING Ever heard of Djuna Barnes? Try Nightwood. Her style is pretty much unique in my experience. People like Martyn Millar and Richard Brautigan take an approach to writing that I found lazy and shoddy. Both have a bit of a cult following and it may be just what you need. When Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh became popular I was amazed at how many rose to the challenge of reading a book that contained so much Scottish dialect. And whilst not exactly unconventional Hemingway brings a  terseness to his writing that can be refreshing if you  are tired of the airs and graces of more conventional literature GET YOUR TEETH INTO SOMETHING DIFFERENT There are so many epic novels that there is nearly always one of them on my shelves to recommend to someone feeling adventurous for something substantial and different. I have Weymouth Sands in the shop at the moment by John Cowper Powys  and I would just as happily recommend his Glastonbury Romance. John Dos Passos and his U.S.A trilogy is as long as they come and a landmark of 20th Century literature. Tressell’s Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is unlike any other novel I know. If politics and the working classes interests you give it a go. Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow exhausted me but then so does Captain Beefheart’s album Trout Mask Replica but I think everyone should at least give the Captain and Gravity a go. TRY READING WHAT OTHER PEOPLE ARE READING FROM THE LITERATURE SECTION Not everyone reads literary reviews and some trust a book-dealer’s observations. There is often little point in recommending the likes of  Dickens and Hardy as so many people have negative, preconceived ideas about them. Instead I pick books written this millennium that they often have not heard of. Here is a handful of titles that have been repeatedly requested over the last few years. David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas is definitely up there as is the Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke is another to consider. Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind  ain’t as popular as it was with would be travellers but still worth a mention if you are thinking of backpacking in the near future and want some inspiration. Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time sells well out of both the children’s and literature section. And if you want the latest candidate get Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries. And believe me there are very few frequently requested Booker prize winning novels. I could go on multiplying examples but lists have a limited usefulness and if you have read this far I have done my bit and you are hopefully more interested in visiting your local secondhand bookshop and asking the staff for five minutes of their time. Best of luck.

Monty Python City versus Kafka United – the last fortnight’s religious news.

Let’s play a different sort of fantasy football with two appropriately named teams chosen to match the spirit of some of the last fortnight’s religious news.

Reading an article on a small village in Derbyshire called Bolsover, I discovered that the city in which I live has the highest number of Satanists of anywhere in England and Wales. According to the Census of 2011 there were 34 Satanists in Bristol. The same census recorded under the same religion category 176,632 Jedi Knights which is under half the number recorded in the previous census. A Priestess of the Church of Satan was asked about the census and she said she thought someone was playing a prank and that Satanists are actually atheists and do not worship the Devil. No one saw fit to ask George Lucas about  making Gods.

Monty Python City 1 – 0 Kafka United

And talking of atheists, Richard Dawkins tweeted, albeit very briefly, that he wanted to fight Islamism with erotica. ‘Why don’t we send lots of erotic videos to theocracies?’ he said. The short answer to that would discuss legal , human rights and moral issues not to mention invasion of privacy, young children being exposed to porn, censorship and technological difficulties. Another sort of revenge porn to contemplate it would seem.

Monty Python City 2 – 0 Kafka United

Stephen Fry on the other hand caused a storm on a chat show with some comments about a capricious, mean minded, stupid and monstrous God who created a world full of injustice and pain. Then he mentioned Greek Gods whom he preferred because they did not pretend not to be human in their appetites, capriciousness and unreasonableness. The interviewer failed to ask if such a lack of pretence made the existence of insects that burrow into children’s eyes any more acceptable.

Stephen Fry got married the other week and it wasn’t in a Greek church, Orthodox or otherwise.

Monty Python City 2 – 1 Kafka United

The Archbishop of Canterbury joined in the debate and said that Stephen Fry has a god given right to express such views and not be abused for saying what he said. People must not be persecuted for their beliefs whether they are religious or atheist.

No mention of the Book of Job in the Old Testament. As for two thousand years of apologetics including discussions about theodicy, not a single reference to any of this extensive tradition. Instead we hear about rights God has given to atheists for which there is no biblical precedent that I know of.

Monty Python City 2 – 2 Kafka United

Perhaps the Archbishop made the above comments because he was speaking at a Convention held by The Religious Liberty Commission to highlight the spread of religious persecution. During it he thanked Evan Harris for his efforts to abolish blasphemy laws as he opposed all restrictions on freedom of speech concerning religion which did not constitute hate speech.

What we are witnessing here is not unique to the Archbishop. Many Christians who stand up in the media to make a statement in the name of Christianity seem to feel a need to commit intellectual syncretism and use terms, concepts and ideas from non-Christian beliefs, ideologies and -isms to make their point, or more precisely to give what they say credibility.

If you advocate the abolition of blasphemy laws in the name of free speech are the numerous references to blasphemy in the bible to be abolished as well? And if not, why not? Taking away the law does not take away the offence that blasphemous comments can cause either. And where does this leave Richard Dawkins ?

Monty Python City 3 – 2 Kafka United

With all that has happened recently I doubt if there has ever been a period in my lifetime when there has been a greater need to educate about religion and its part in shaping our past and current world. Ignorance of facts help make it easier for prejudice to thrive. TV Programmes on church history, medieval history, critical thinking and philosophy could help redress the balance and give the young especially the tools to assess extremism, fundamentalism and prejudice. So what has the BBC just announced? It is axing the post of Head Of Religion so that religious programmes will be merged with history, science and business under a new Head of Factual Programming. Own Goal!

Monty Python City 3 – 3 Kafka United

PS – there is no extra time.

Predicting the 2015 UK General Election three months in advance.

There are few things that we English like doing more than being wise after the event – especially if we are in a pub. Today is the 7th of February 2015 and in exactly three months time the next UK General Election will be held. I am happy to try and be wise before the event – a full three months before the event – and to not only state which party I think is going to win the most seats, but to go as far as to state the exact number of seats won by seven of the parties involved plus a figure for seats won by the ‘other’ parties.

Here are my predictions in numbers and then words.

  • Conservative – 328 seats
  • Labour – 245
  • Scottish National Party – 30
  • Liberal Democrat – 15
  • UKIP – 10
  • DUP – 8
  • Green Party – 0
  • Others – 14

  • The Conservative Party to sneak an overall majority.
  • As a consequence of the recent referendum in Scotland, The Labour Party to lose out heavily to the SNP , but to still remain The Opposition Party.
  • The Liberal Democrats to lose out heavily all round, and regress to where they were a decade or so ago.
  • UKIP to make a limited impact (mainly due to the small percentage of seats they contest) and yet become the Liberal Democrat’s nearest rival.
  • The Green Party to discover just how steep the learning curve is in the run up to an election.
  • No significant changes in Northern Ireland.

  • There could of course be an event of Falklands War proportions to change everything. The TV debates could throw the biggest political spanner ever known into the works but both scenarios are so unlikely as not to be worth considering.

  • Will report back in three months or so.
  • PS – have not been in a pub for weeks.

Healthy Frozen Food In Your Supermarket’s Freezer Section.

I have a handful of ambitions in life and to create the diet that solves the obesity problem in the  Western world is one of them. Freezer food plays virtually no part in this master-plan. Pretty much everything in supermarket freezer sections is to be avoided if at all possible. Most of it is processed food. It is often low in fibre and nearly always high in additives, salt, sugar and fat. The quality of the ingredients is likely to be poor. Some supermarkets have premium ranges and you rarely find premium range freezer food – the only obvious exceptions that spring to mind are beefburgers and prawns.

Freezer sections are not popular because they offer healthy and nutritious food. They are popular because so many people are lazy and the products are cheaper than their fresh counterparts which often take time and effort to prepare. There are however three and a half exceptions to be found in frozen form and you may find them a welcome addition to your diet if you have not done so already.

 

FROZEN FRUIT

Berries and currants predominate the frozen fruit section of every supermarket I have been in. Which is great as they are low in fructose and the frozen version is very often considerably cheaper than buying fresh. Not only is there rarely any waste but also the act of freezing when at their freshest means there is no need for any added preservatives. In or out of season you can have at your disposal half a dozen or so berries and currants to be eaten on their own, with your breakfast cereal or used to make your smoothie or fruit juice.

Or perhaps you like ice cream. If you can find it, take a cube of frozen ginger and a few tablespoons of frozen fruit and put it in a bowl to thaw out. Then put two thirds you usual amount of ice cream with it. Packets of ground linseeds often come with added fruit or even cocoa which is even better. Add a spoonful or two sprinkled over the top. Linseeds in this form provide as much protein gram for gram as most cuts of meat. Like ground  hemp seeds, which you can also use, they also add quality fibre.

You do not need to stop there. Just because it says breakfast cereal on the packet does not mean you can’t add a few tablespoons of it. Porridge not recommended. You could top it off with something like cinnamon or a chopped up nectarine or some nut or dried fruit of your choice. You may have to have a few attempts at getting the taste of it right. But something similar to what I have described will add fibre, animal fat free protein and variety to your diet with a little bit of cheap help from the freezer section. And you will be eating less ice cream. Maybe further down the line you could substitute the ice cream for a live yogurt or Greek  yogurt or think about adding local honey to help you reduce the chances of getting hay fever………..

 

FROZEN VEGETABLES

Bags of mixed chopped vegetables tend to go a bit soggy and be a little bland in my experience. If you shop around you may find as many as a dozen varieties of frozen unmixed vegetables  and most of what I said above about  wastage, processing time, all the year round availability and cost also applies to frozen veg.

Unlike frozen fruit you do need to check for extras in the ingredients list and this is especially true with frozen potato products. It is not unusual for frozen or oven chips and especially potato wedges to contain anything up to 15% added salt, wheat and other additives. I actually prefer wedges and think that eating potato with the skin on increases its nutritional and fibre content but I do not kid myself that I am doing anything other than choosing the lesser of two evils compared with chips fried in fat.

If you still need convincing about the advantages of frozen food, consider the 500g bag of mixed chopped peppers I buy for one whole English pound – £1! Great when added to meals cooked in the oven 15 – 20 minutes before the end, can you imagine how long it would take you to produce such an amount if you personally had to remove the stalk, seed and pith and then chop them up  to produce such an amount? And no waste to dispose of either.

 

FROZEN FISH

Having touched on protein substitutes for meat, a brief mention for fish. Read a few labels and find some line caught, responsibly sourced and not farmed, unbreaded fish. Never tried pollock? Then give it a go especially if you like a more meaty texture. Again you will save money and time spent preparing whilst increasing massively your intake of hormone-free protein.

 

FROZEN VEGETARIAN FOOD

Most frozen vegetarian  meals share the bad points other ready meals have but with the cheap quality meat taken out. However if you have never checked out the ingredients of vegetarian burgers and sausages you may be in for a bit of a surprise as they often contain as much protein as meat and sometimes more. Vegetable protein comes primarily from mushrooms, soya and wheat, all three of which have been names and shamed in various quarters over the years. Let’s not kid ourselves that eating them is anything other than consuming a processed food that happens to be vegetarian, so use sparingly as you would with any food which contains about 15% fat and a gram of salt for every burger or sausage used. Anyway a source of protein you may not have thought of before.

 

So if your New Year’s Resolutions for food have not quite worked out, then how about considering adding some of your favourite fruit and veg in frozen form to your freezer, and throw caution to the wind and tweak the ice cream recipe till it works for you? Or add both a frozen fish and frozen burger and sausage meal a week to your diet? You might lose weight and you might end up adding permanently just one variety of berry, currant or vegetable to your diet or just increase the range of protein  you consume. Which is a slightly better place to be than you are now. Or you might just give the freezer section a complete miss. Which might not be such a bad thing especially if you can afford to buy as many fresh berries, currants and vegetables as you please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Icelandic Pixie Juggling Music, Bristol pounds, Food, Poetry and 50 Shades of Grey

In the 25 years I have been a second-hand book-dealer I have never witnessed anything like the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon. Over a period of several months, dozens of women came into my shop and told me one of three things. Either they had never been in a bookshop before or they had never even  read a book. Or both. But here they were  buying 50 Shades of Grey to read. Completely unwittingly E L James had tapped into the biggest market there is for any author and that is the huge number of people who don’t buy or read books.

I can outline this market in more detail. At the time I was helping a couple of Colombian girls to improve their English. I  frequently tried to  use  Grazia magazines to help them learn more contemporary English.  They weren’t that interested but the numerous references in the magazines to 50 Shades of Grey interested me. I could not come to any other conclusion than that millions of women were dissatisfied with their sex lives and this was the book to help remedy the situation.
Word of mouth and peer pressure played a major part in the success of the book but surely not in a way the author  had expected – so good for lucky her to have stumbled upon a huge market of sexually bored and frustrated women, many of whom find no place for books or reading in their lives.
And the same is true for you and me no matter what we are trying to sell or promote. If everyone who doesn’t buy our stuff started to do so we would all be a lot richer. We can’t presume to be as lucky as E L James, so it is necessary for us to look beyond the obvious outlets and target audiences, to think creatively about people who would never think of buying or reading what we have to offer or promote.
For example, I started looking at poetry sites to which I could upload my own poetry. I started with sites that only feature original and unpublished poetry. I read dozens of poems on these sites and was struck by how many of the poems were really long and unedited pieces of blank verse with loads of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Many were highly personal and confessional about really dark and depressing subjects such as cutting, rejection and suicide.
I, on the other hand, write really short and highly polished nonsense verse that is  totally random and bizarre. Every poem rhymes and scans. There is not a single word about me as I choose to write about famous people as well as fairy tale  and nursery rhyme characters. Also there is not a word of negativity. It dawned on me that my poetry could die a death on poetry only sites so I started looking elsewhere. First I tried what I call creative sites that feature not only poetry but either general writing or art as well and then even more general sites that are happy to feature just about anything.
Lo and behold, after uploading 33 poems to 14 sites my fears proved to be well founded. With one exception – 11,000+ reads in nine months – the poetry only sites were a complete disaster. I got a much better response on the more general sites. By analysing objectively my own poetry I had at least managed to find another audience for the sort of poetry I write.
And whatever you are selling or promoting, you may benefit from considering what people may get from your product, who have never even thought about such a product, let alone purchasing it. That is what this article is ultimately about – being more successful in business and the arts by tapping into less obvious areas you would never dream about selling to.
So let’s dream.
You sell tractors and all of them go to farmers. You hear about mechanically unreliable tow trucks letting their owners down. They ain’t farmers but soon they are buying your tractors to tow at ports, airports, building sites and  sports grounds around the world. Brangelina turn up at the Oscars on a tractor to highlight the plight of farmers in the third world. Soon every A-Lister has bought their own tractor and sponsored several others for use in undeveloped countries.
You run a slate tile business. An employee casually mentions how she teaches  her kids to write on your slates because that is how she learnt – and  she also finds them useful to cook on. Two years later every other restaurant and household in the land is cooking food on your slates and every retro and pound shop in the country is selling your school slates.  You even win a Literacy Award for encouraging good spelling because you sell every school slate with a pocket dictionary. You buy a chalk mine…………..
You sell ice cream but not so much during the winter months. You  create an apple shaped ice cream made of linseeds with cocoa, echinacea and molasses to create the healthiest dessert on the market. The nation loses 4 million kilos in weight in a year as a result. At Christmas you produce Christmas tree  shaped ice cream. In the run up to Valentine’s Day the ice cream becomes heart shaped. At Easter time it’s egg shaped. Shapeshifter ice cream makes you very rich.
Talking about time specific products, you sell breakfast cereals  and realise you are psychologically limiting your market to one meal a day. You create the lunch cereal, the tea cereal, the coffee cereal, the supper cereal, the munchie’s cereal or the diabetic’s or insomniac’s cereal, the alcoholic’s cereal, the hangover cereal, the anorexic’s cereal, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter cereals, the surreal cereal, serial cereals. I can’t face typing the  word beginning with c again but you get the general idea.
Returning to the real world, in Bristol, England, the Bristol Pound was launched at the market where I work. It is our own local currency that is accepted in hundreds of shops round the city. However bank note collectors all round the world were at least as interested as us locals, buying notes that will never be spent but rather languish in their banknote collections. When I started collecting stamps I learnt that in the 1960’s countries started producing commemorative stamps and stamps with themes that were specifically aimed at stamp collectors. Eastern bloc countries did likewise to generate millions of pounds of currency for their closed economies and places I have never heard of do likewise to boost significantly their gross national product. Stamps and bank notes bought never to be used in the way they were originally intended.
So let’s talk about Icelandic pixie juggling music – and let’s face it no-one else is – you are in a band playing such music on synthesisers and bagpipes. We all know that pixies don’t buy CDs and don’t like being juggled. People into world music don’t like synthesisers and ain’t so keen on bagpipes or pixies. People who like synthesiser music ain’t so keen on bagpipes either and tend not to be that fond of pixies or juggling. It’s not looking good is it?
But your live act is unique. Whilst juggling pixie shaped ice cream,  tractors are driven over strategically placed slate tiles in time with the music. Ever seen  tractors juggle? By tapping into post-modernism and installation art you become the must see live act of the year. With your first album, Retro-Ironic Existentialism For The Erotically Challenged Man, you provide a musical backdrop for a male response to 50 Shades of Grey. You produce a video for your ‘Shooting Gammon For Robbing Banks’ song. It features 1,000,000 Bristol Pounds being burnt by stamp collectors eating porridge. You are not the first band to be successful in spite of your music and you won’t be the last but you realised the intrinsic merit of your music had  limited appeal and no obvious target audience so you made up for it in other, associated areas.
Whether it is selling  how to iron an aeroplane  manuals to life models, baby food to telescope owners, or  toothbrushes to piranhas , there is always a way to sell your stuff in a way you have never thought of, to people you have never thought of,  for a purpose you have never thought of. How successful you might be in your business may be directly linked to how imaginative you are when it comes to viewing your product in a different light, be it how it is used, where it is used, why it is used or when it is used.
We cannot all chance upon such massive untapped markets like E L James did but we can all make the effort to make our own luck.
PS – I could tell you that I realised there were people who might like my poetry who would never even think about reading it, so  I decided to write an article targeting those in the world of marketing, business and advertising to see if I could make it more likely that they did. The article ended up being called Icelandic Pixie Juggling Music, Bristol Pounds, Food, Poetry and 50 Shades of Grey……………………….

Charlie Hebdo, Bullying And Free Speech

Within an hour of hearing about the Charlie Hebdo massacre I had found out that the only person I know in Paris was safe and sound. She had taught me something about French culture that I had not known before. Cartoons, graphic novels, manga and anime are very highly regarded, if not revered, in France . This is a tradition that goes back decades and I decided to refresh my memory about it and especially the recent history of the Charlie Hebdo magazine. This included looking at several articles which had examples of their cartoons and I could not understand why they were affecting me so.

Days later it hit me – I had seen a cartoon of a Muslim drawn with a hideous and massive hooked nose and the memories came flooding back of the first time I had been called a hook-nose. I was about eight at the time, had no Jewish blood in me and for the life of me could not see any hookiness . But I was bullied relentlessly for the first dozen years of my life – for being a poof, a ponce, being able to read – and with hindsight being taunted for being Jewish was more about a new and different way to bully than anything to do with my ethnicity.

Then it dawned on me what it might be like to be a twelve year old at the beginning of 2015. You wake up to hear that the Prime Minister of your own country is  standing up to defend the rights of people to offend. You can be forgiven for thinking  that every bully and troll is rejoicing to get such approval for their actions from arguably the most important man in the country?
Then the Pope gets involved. He mentions that if a good friend of his were to insult the Pope’s mother, the Pope would punch his good friend. David Cameron responds to the Pope saying this -
‘ I think that in a free society there is a right to cause offence about someone’s religion.’
It’s pretty tough at school for many kids anyway, and being a Jew, Christian, Muslim, or whatever creed often can make life even more difficult. The last thing you want to hear is the Prime Minister saying something that could be interpreted as giving bullies the right to be offensive about people’s religion.
Or the Pope advocating punching.
Respect and tolerance are two words that many schoolchildren must be sick of hearing. And many of them may well be asking two questions. Why is it that, on the one hand the powers that be extol these two virtues, and yet also extol freedom of speech which is so often used  to be disrespectful, intolerant, offensive, provocative, insulting and bullying?
And why is it OK to portray someone of another faith with a hideous and massive hooked nose when it is a caricature in the name of satire but  wrong to do so in other forms of expression?
If I was twelve years old in 2015 I could easily feel a very vulnerable and confused young lad.
The Pope not only defended freedom of expression but also talked about its limits. In the same interview David Cameron described himself as a Christian. Doing unto others as you would have them do to you is a part of the gospel message no bully wants to hear precisely because it would set a limit to their behaviour. Yet neither Pope nor Prime Minister see fit to bring to the debate any contribution that is unmistakably Christian let alone such a relevant key verse – or did such words get edited out? I am sure both  could provide a more Christian answer than advocating punching or offensiveness in the name of free speech.
Freedom of speech is given to both the good and the evil, the respectful and  the disrespectful,the tolerant and the intolerant, the peaceable and the violent, the bully and the bullied. Not every twelve year old will appreciate such generosity.
I can imagine the sarcasm which bullied kids around the world will use when they talk back to their bullies and say that whilst they disagree with every word said, they would sacrifice their own lives in defence of the bullies’ right to be as offensive, provocative, abusive and insulting as they like.
Fancy being a teacher and explaining Voltaire, satire and freedom of expression to your classes?
And as chance would have it, there is  a subject  taught in pretty much every school which is  all about people’s actions and words and how other people react, often violently, to those actions or words. It is called History. I suspect many a twelve year old today  would be baffled that so many grown ups are so surprised and shocked to hear about the consequences of someone’s words or actions leading to a violent response in a country that allows free speech.
But then most children’s conception of an ideal world does not include the right to be offensive, abusive, insulting, disrespectful or intolerant.

2014 you learned i good | New Year’s Resolutions for 2015.

1) Life Is Not  A Contest.
    You know the sort – every time they play Scrabble the world’s peace-keeping forces are put on red alert. If you tell them you bought a lovely pair of shoelaces today, tomorrow  they send you a link  to their Pinterest page with photos of their comprehensive shoelace collection – which they uploaded last night. And for some people life is a contest from the playground to the grave, an endless saga of compare and contrast – with themselves. Every comment and situation is taken as a direct challenge to their validity, or masculinity or pretty much any part of their life that makes them feel they are important or worthy of whatever position they hold in their own imaginations.
And whatever problem you are experiencing, they have had a bigger, more serious or significant one to help you put  yours into perspective.
# Let them win but make sure they lose you out of their lives. Spend more of your time with people who don’t have to self reference everything.
2) Avoid Tension Seekers.
     Unlike attention seekers who can be entertaining and the life and soul of the party, tension         seekers bring nothing to the party or any other situation except tension. They attempt to bring everything and everyone down to their level. They delight in putting people on edge and on the defensive. They ask inappropriate questions often of a personal nature, talk about subjects normally off limits and are always on the look-out for a chink in your armour which they hope to exploit or embarrass you with. While they are doing all this they hope that nobody notices how lacking they are in social graces, intelligent and stimulating conversation, general emotional development and all the other things that people trying to better themselves strive for.
I sometimes call them ASWATES as they are often Always So Wise After The Event.
Whatever you have been through or are experiencing now, they sure know how to make you and the situation feel worse.
# If you cannot confront them, give up on them as very few people will ever change them.
3) Leave Mountain People Where They Are And Move On.
     My favourite FB post of 2014 (not that there was much competition) read something like                                         ‘Stop crossing oceans for people who wouldn’t jump a puddle for you’
Such Mountain People are very easy to avoid as you always have to go to them, do things their way and generally fit in with them. Compromise,  reciprocity and mutuality just ain’t in their vocabulary. They are  emotionally and socially immovable, and of little use to anyone but their self-serving selves. Often they are like emotional vampires draining you dry of your life force whilst you buy into them being the centre of attention.
At one point this year I looked at all my recently sent FB messages, emails and texts and realised 90% had received no reply. Can you take a hint? Such people’s lives are lived to the exclusion of everybody else’s unless useful to their own ends. Or you weren’t that close anyway.
# Be a potential priority not a potential option.
4) Beware Of People Who Call Themselves Spiritual.
     If you have a spare couple of centuries, read every religious book, all the lives of the saints and       about holy and spiritual people generally. You will rarely if ever come across any spiritual person calling themselves spiritual. People who think they are spiritual are not usually a problem – it’s those who tell you they are. In our 21st century the word spiritual has come to be used in conversation and print mainly by the amoral, either to smokescreen their ultimately selfish behaviour or to establish common ground that proves to be quicksand. They might meditate, go to all the right festivals and lectures as well as read self help books but like Mountain People they worship the same god – themselves.
# It’s not set in stone that you dance to other people’s tunes so give them a taste of your own music.
5) It Is Better To Walk Away And Live Another Day Than To Die Trying To Win.
    Toward the end of June my father went into hospital critically ill and came out worse. About the same time my phone-line was slammed  and  I lost my broadband connection for a month. Unbeknown to me I was about to embark on a four month Kafkaesque odyssey to scrap my car and finish a similar odyssey to change electricity supplier . I was let down by Ombudsmen, The Metropolitan Police, The Consumers Association’s Which magazine, the DVLA, the NHS and the Post Office.
I could have taken matters further but I was reminded of a time a few years ago when I had to re-mortgage my house because of changes to the law relating to pensions. Without any sense of irony my Personal Financial Advisor told me that if I wasn’t happy I could take on the British Government .
There is a chance you can take on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with a sling and a handful of pebbles and win  – but realistically?
I could have embraced the challenge and found my unfair share of tension seekers and that sometimes life is a very biased and unfair contest. It is not just Mountain people who never move but also the likes of monolithic organisations with teams of lawyers and shareholders who need to be satisfied. I could have made myself as ill as my father was. Or worse. But I chose to walk away.
 # Save your energy, sanity and health  for potentially more  fruitful days.
6) There is More to Life Than Coping.
     Whilst I did cope with all that happened in 2014, it did make me realise that there is more to life     than just coping.  Are you just about coping?  Waking up from your living nightmare to realise that there more to life than coping is a major step towards defining your goals and future happiness.
# I’ll say it again – there’s more to life than coping.
7) Seek out Peaceable People.
    Peaceable people don’t turn life into a contest. They shun tension and the people who cause it as much as possible. Mountains ain’t on their maps and they rarely if ever call themselves spiritual. Ultimately they are interested in  people and not in what people can do for them no matter what they or you are coping with.
Seek peaceable people out and you will find them happy to compromise, to meet you half way and to give without expecting to receive.
Associate with peaceable people and your stress levels will plummet. Your self image will stop being such an issue. You will find yourself apologising less. Your opinion of yourself will improve. Your opinions will be of interest to other people. Your interests will broaden. Trivia and a life  permeated by soundbites and  social media will recede into the past. Your experiences will be more fulfilling. And ultimately you will feel better, more content and peaceable yourself.
# May 2015 see your life enriched by peaceable people.
P.S. My father is better.