Sunday 26 June 2011

Africa Again

I am enjoying reading Richard Dowden's impressive, comprehensive and humane Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles. It looks like becoming a long term companion.

One of his earliest observations chimed perfectly.

 "Africans have in abundance what we call social skills. These are not skills that are formally taught or learned. There is no click-on-have-a-nice-day smile in Africa. Africans meet, greet, and talk, look you in the eye and empathise, hold hands and embrace, share and accept from others without twitchy self-consciousness. All these things are as natural as music in Africa."

How true and what we could learn....

And in an irony so sharp it's painful, contrast that with those we send to Africa to "help" the continent "develop". People I have met in the aid brigade are some of the most emotionally constipated and socially handicapped human specimens I have come across anywhere. Why do we think it's acceptable to send these dysfunctional individuals to Africa ... is it a way of getting rid of them from our societies I wonder? Or is it some form of self-selection, rooted in a deep disdain for humanity's home continent? I propose engaging a cadre of African consultants to run a people skills boot camp for the poverty industry. They would need long contracts.

Twelve Steps to Happiness

The study of happiness -- or "wellbeing" as the politicians insist on calling it -- is one of the more surprising and welcome developments of recent years. Of course cynicism is an inevitable response when prime minsters preach about it. It is a long time since a government of any colour did anything to help the sum of national happiness. However the very act of considering wellbeing is a good move in itself. Taking stock,  reflection, planning are all positive moves.

So here are my twelve steps to a happier life. They are deliberately simple and, surprise surprise, draw from what humans have been doing and known about for millenia,  the things we forgot over the past generation or so.

1. Do something outdoors every day -- preferably working up a sweat.

2. Exercise your empathy. Empathy is one of our primal human characteristics, we damage ourselves if we deny it.

3. Regularly do things in big groups -- live music, football matches, pub quizzes, festivals or whatever.

4. Appreciate the seasons. Enjoy their natural rhythm through activities, foods, nature whatever takes your fancy.  

5. Try to eat at a table with friends and family or even strangers as often as you can.

6. Only watch TV, do Facebook or other screen facing activities when you have nothing real to do.

7. Have a cause.

8. Get drunk occasionally, with others not on your own. But try to avoid drinking alcohol most days.

9. Try to undertake some tasks with a beginning, middle and end. Making things is especially good. So much of modern daily work ignores this basic progression. We all need a complete narrative arc from time to time.

10. Enjoy some fantasy every day. The imagination is one of humanity's finest tools. Don't let it go rusty.

11. Celebrate a mixed group of friends. A false notion of "preference" is in danger of putting us all into sterile silos. The wider your circle the more stimulation, empathy and surprise. Don't be scared of surprise.

12. Sit around a fire outside every so often with a group of friends old or new. Baden Powell may not be trendy but he was right about a couple of things. Guitars and campfire songs are optional.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Am I for real?

In the interests of transparency I felt that I ought to let you, my loyal readers, know that I am in fact an Azerbaijani transvestite lesbian amputee. I have been posing as Adam for the past two years. I do apologise for misleading you all.

Monday 13 June 2011

Brothers in Arms

We all rather enjoy the Miliband saga. It has just that hint that it may run on in a Shakespearean tragedy sort of way.

Ed did the unthinkable standing and winning against David. Will David also do the unthinkable and try to topple Ed? Will it be sooner rather than later before Ed destroys the Milibrand?