Sunday, 24 March 2019

April Fools' Day

Probably the largest non-religious festival celebrated in the western world, yet its origins are as uncertain as whether you’ll fall victim in April this year. The earliest mention of April Fools’ Day or All Fools’ Day came in 1686 England when biographer John Aubrey described April 1st as a “Fools Holy Day.” Way before that, the Roman spring festival of Hilaria, the vernal (spring) equinox paved the way for similar events through the centuries. Held around the 25thMarch in honour of the first day of the year that was longer than the night, it included festivities, games, processions and masquerades, during which disguised commoners could imitate nobility to devious ends. Back to today, you’re gifted an opportunity once a year to get your own back on ‘the boss’ under the protection of “April Fool” but make sure they really do have a sense of humour, or you could end up toast! This is not a practice restricted to individuals but taken up by many large organisations over recent years, perhaps most famously in 1957 when the BBC reported on Italians harvesting spaghetti from special trees. 
This resulted in several hundred asking for information on how to cultivate the ‘spaghetti tree,’ followed by complaints of being humiliated when the truth came out! So, whatever prank you line up, before you cause too much anxiety, make sure you shout, “April Fool!” which will hopefully bring you some forgiveness.
With an Irish background, I grew up drowning in jokes; it was April Fools’ Day every day! My conversations were so peppered with similes, metaphors and sarcasm that foreigners could barely understand me. However, none of those jokes were designed to hurt, just to make others laugh, which encouraged me to learn even more. Irish jokes were something I could live with, in part because I could relate to an element of personal reflection! 
My mother, born and bred in the Republic, used to say things intended as serious, but we would all fall about laughing. “Our Daniel has one of those new ‘sat lav’ things in his car now,” or “I’m too scared to ask Google, they might think I’m stupid." She once saw a rabbit hopping by the side of the road and remarked, “Daniel, do you think that’s a real rabbit?” Stunned, I replied jokingly, “No Mum, it’s one of those new hi-tech ones.” She explained with a straight face how she’d never heard of those things, but what a good idea they were! She would always start a scolding with, “Look at me, this is no joking matter!” We’d all freeze, trying to look petrified, but the slightest twitch from one of us and we’d all crack up, scattering to avoid the far-reaching (low-tech) broom! 
There are the thousands of great jokes that you learn and memorise, stored in a giant ‘Gatling gun’ that you release without warning when the time’s right… Sean and Mick are walking down the road and Sean has a bag of doughnuts in his hand. Sean says to Mick, "If you can guess how many doughnuts are in my bag, you can have them both. "Would that offend you? Maybe if you were Irish? Unlikely though!
Travelling the world, I recognised that in some cultures, jokes don’t exist. When living in Johannesburg, our TV reception was poor, so I informed our friend Freedom that I’d wait for nightfall and go steal the satellite dish from our neighbour’s roof. He was shocked and explained that it was illegal to do such a thing. When I explained that I was joking, he was even more confused. “So, it was a lie?” he said. I replied, “Yes, sometimes a joke can be a lie, but that’s OK because it’s a joke.” The following morning, he came to tell me that he was going into town, and I wished him a safe journey. He said, “No, I’m notgoing to town, it was a joke.” I forced a laugh but failed miserably, then sat with him to try and clarify, and we had endless fun practising. 
So, what is a joke? “A ‘joke’ is a display of humour in which words are used within a specific and well-defined narrative structure to make people laugh and is not meant to be taken seriously.”(Wikipedia)Does that do it for you? Why did the chicken cross the road? In Bangkok? Undoubtedly suicide with a guaranteed outcome! Knock! Knock! Who's there? Cash! Cash who? No thanks, but I'd love some peanuts! Don’t worry, my wife took four takes on that one!
Jewish, Catholic, vegetarian, football, Essex girl, mother-in-law, race, sex, disability, tragedy, any subject now becomes ammo for jokes. After 9/11 the first jokes came out the same day on social media, and I’ve seen it happen with anything that occurs around the world. Why? Maybe that’s the way some of us handle things when they get so bad! “Death smiles at us all, all we can do is smile back.” (Gladiator) 
Then there are the camouflaged jokes; these are the worst kind because they’re always aimed at individuals or minority sections of society. A joke designed to hurt or offend, maybe not intentionally, but under the guise of “It was just a joke,” but often doesn’t feel that way to the receiver! Did you hear about the bulimic stag party? The cake came out of the girl! How do you make a blonde laugh on Saturday? Tell her a joke on Wednesday.Not so good for Bulimic Blondes! My mother-in-law and I were happy for 20 years; then we met each other. Why don`t ducks tell jokes when they fly? Because they would quack up! A bit more general, so less offensive unless you’re a well-read mallard!
Having had a cancer scare recently, I can relate to this one… An old soldier went to a clinic for an MRI and was put into the machine by an attractive, young technician. Sometime later, after snoozing to music, the examination was over, and he was helped from the device by an older guy. The veteran gasped, “Wow! How long was I in there for?” 

Tell your joke, but be aware of your audience. What may seem very funny to some could be offensive to others, and if you’re amongst strangers, you should be doubly careful. Billy Connolly, a master of the profession, said, "I've always been fascinated by the difference between jokes you can tell your friends, but you can't tell to an audience. There's a fine line you must tread, because you don't know who is out there in the auditorium. A lot of people are too easily offended. 
The older you get, the more jokes you’ll have heard, sometimes the same ones coming around incessantly, like Jehovah Witnesses. Still, laugh out loud, it’s good for you! I even laugh at jokes when I don’t get them, it seems fair on the teller! If you’ve got a joke that would make me cry laughing, please send it because I haven’t done that in years! Laughter is a wonderful medicine, it improves your health, and it’s free, fun and easy to do. It triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural ‘feel-good’ chemicals, allowing you a greater sense of well-being. Laughter burns calories, improves circulation, makes you more popular, inspires hope and one day, if you’re lucky, you may even die laughing!

Monday 1st April, beware, it could be you!

A selection of my publications in Expat Life Thailand 2016 – 2019

Dying was easy/coming back was harder

How important is Facebook to you?

Prostate Cancer

Retiring to Thailand

Kensington International School

Cholesterol: Are you at risk?

Al-Saray Review

England’s Teachers Heading Overseas.

Visit to Japan.

The Penrith Show

Happy Christmas Story

The Milk Boy

2017 – A year without alcohol

Dear Daniel: A letter to myself, aged 12

Christmases in the 60s

Medical Emergency Bangkok (co-written with Susan Dustin)

The fires that cleanse the soul
My Ups and Downs on Internet dating

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Do we age with our Music?

In 1967, I'd joined the Army that May and remember listening when Radio One came on air for the first time. 7 am I think it was, but us soldiers had done a days work by then :-) We'd had Radio Caroline since 1964 but I was more into classical music at that time as I'd played violin in the school orchestra. But for a few years, I'd never tune to another station, Radio One would live forever!

As the years went by I found the music I loved was decreasing on that station, and I eventually migrated, along with the music, to Radio Two. I was happy again, with stuff that I recognised, and even though I tried to 'modernise' I just couldn't like much of the new stuff.
Well, I suppose inevitably, Radio Two started to go downhill for me too, and when I moved to Thailand four years ago I found where all my favourites had gone. All the music I like from the 60s/70s had moved to the night shift in the UK, between about 1am and 5 am, which was great because I got to listen at 8 am to 1 pm here in Bangkok.

I flicked back to Radio One the other day; do people really listen to that stuff? Sounded like the food blender with metal in! I guess it's an age thing.
Thanks to the Internet we can listen to anything from around the world now. Do you know any stations that play a good selection of 60s 70s even 80s music, without a DJ who wants to ramble on for 10 minutes between tracks? Tell me, please! Or even a good 'chat show' where the common man comes on and debates anything/everything, like the James Whale Show?

Saturday, 9 March 2019

They won't remember everything you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.

Where do we go when we die?

 One day you’ll be reading this, and I’ll be dead! It might be this edition, fresh off the press, very unexpected; I hope not! More likely, you’ve found a tatty old copy of Expat Life Thailand in the dusty magazine rack of a derelict laundry in Sala Daeng. You’re there, hiding from the chaos outside! The shouting and screaming of hundreds running swiftly through narrow streets care nothing of who they might target next! The police and soldiers stand by powerless as the onslaught spreads; it’s a free for all! All thoughts of tomorrow are gone, today’s all that matters! Your heart’s pounding, body clammy, mind’s racing. How did I get here? What could I have done differently?

It'll be too late soon to have a voice; the dead are silent, everything they ever said distorted and forgotten, leaving others with just, 'how you made them feel.' The only things left, films, sound recordings or scripts like this, unchanging, frozen for eternity, just evidence that you were here once!

I've experienced many funerals and can't remember one which wasn't farcical in some way. At my father's, his then current partner, dear old Ivy, sat near the back of the church out of respect for my mother and her children. We, in turn, felt so sorry for her obvious grief that we sat in the remaining seats behind. The priest had to shout from the altar, his voice echoing over thirty rows of empty pews between him and the rest of us! We didn’t know what my father would have wanted, so there we all were, actors in a B movie comedy! 

I dislike those European funerals with the big ugly black limos, the distraught family, some doing their best to look distraught, many just wanting to be seen to be there, to 'pay their last respects.' I'm not even sure what that means! If you want to 'pay your respects,' do it when I'm alive so I can have the pleasure of that meeting! Visit while you can, I sincerely don't want your company when I'm dead when it's all one-way talk. If you don't like me, let's make friends. Know that sometimes, it’s too late! Don't whisper to my spirit after your free tea and sandwiches; you'll be talking to yourself. Don't wait to read my obituary, it’ll probably never be written! Learn about me while I’m alive, speak now, hear my story and tell me yours; I'd like that! 

Why does it cost six times that of a business class ticket to fly a dead body to another country, when you’re not even eating from the flight menu? If I die overseas, that's where I want to remain. I don't want a funeral, though I know my body must be disposed of, I want it all done with minimum fuss. Buddhists do it best, don’t you think? Avoid flying in from anywhere to see me dead; I'd rather you gave the fare to someone in need. Ashes? Sure, you can have some, but don't talk to them, it's not me! I'm here now. Talk to me!

When my father was alive I didn't make much effort at keeping in touch; I had a young family, it could always wait until another day. What I'd give to talk now, tell him where I've been and what I've done. I'd hug him for the first time! When he died, I felt a part of me went with him; that way I still feel close. When my mother went, it laid ruin to what was left; all sleeping demons arriving at once!

So, where do I believe we go when we die? We tell our children, "You go back to where you were before you were a baby." I love that! After nearly 70 years, dipping in and out of religion, searching for the truth, I finally found what sits comfortably, and it's simple... 
I don't know, and nobody else does; Hindus, Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Atheists, say your piece, but if you claim to know, then you’re in immediate conflict with billions of others. Why should you be right and they wrong?
There are roughly 4,200 organised religions in the world. I say ‘organised’ to indicate they probably have a leader, a headquarters and a bank account, but some faiths may only have one person with their own set of unique beliefs; like me!

Look at the top five:
Christianity                             2.2 billion
Islam                                      1.5 billion
Secular/Agnostic/Atheist        1.2 billion
Hinduism                                1.1 billion
Buddhism                               535 million

When a member of one of those dies, they all have very different scenarios in ‘what happens next,’ and all deal with it in very different ways. So, where my open spiritual mind says and feels that there could indeed be a ‘God Almighty’ would that God really have 4,200 different versions of ‘what happens next?’ Or do we desperately research all 4,200 to find which one suits us best? I know that random reincarnation wouldn’t suit me at all, coming back in the lifeform of anything from a goat to a jellyfish, a pigeon to a tuna, all have obvious downsides; and I can think of worse! Having started out as Catholic and experiencing up to 20 other religions over 60 years, I’ve now parked my soul in the Buddhist bay.

My belief is that those who believe there’s nothing after death are just as wrong as those who believe there’s something, because the truth is, we don't know, and that gives me comfort. It means we enter the final journey knowing there might be nothing, but also that there might be something; an element of hope. After all, if there is some higher being, an Almighty God, they will surely understand why we mortals might, looking at the evidence, have doubts about the 'masterplan.'

Yes, the dust from my body will float along with yours, journeying for eternity throughout the cosmos, scattering over millions of light years. The energy that makes life possible will dissipate, just as candlelight does when the wind gusts. As to what happens then, I don’t know; you don’t know, nobody knows! 
So, go now! Grab your weapon, reload and take your chance amongst the bellowing mob outside. Revel and rejoice in the festival of Songkran, where you can die safely a thousand times. I’m gone, but your voice still matters. Talk, shout, scream with joy! 
I’m where we go when we die!