27 November 2005


My adopted pet tiger is called Waggy in honour of Hull City footballing legend Ken Wagstaff. Not quite George Best standard in looks or talent but click your mouse upon him and listen to him purr!

25 November 2005


In the United Kingdom, this will always be remembered as the day on which George Best died. He was perhaps the most naturally gifted and exciting footballer that these islands have ever produced. Back in the late sixties/early seventies he was a Beatlelike playboy - partying, boozing and womanising as if there was no tomorrow. He said that he used to go missing a lot - "Miss UK, Miss World, Miss America..." and he also said that he spent all of his money on booze, women and fast cars - "the rest I just squandered"!
On the international stage, George was of course handicapped by the fact that he was only entitled to represent little Northern Ireland though at club level he became a living legend and European Cup winner with Manchester United. When George was on the ball, running at defenders, it was pure poetry.
Essentially Best was a shy Irish lad, good at football but ill-prepared for the trappings of stardom. I feel sorry that booze destroyed his liver and eventually killed him but glad that as a young man he often lived life with devil-may-care relish, bedding beautiful women, partying till dawn and drinking like a fish. I am sure he had many laughs. Who wants to live the safe life - the "clean and in between the sheets life" - dying at eighty in an old folks home, memory fading, body failing. He only had fifty nine years but he made his mark. There really was only one George Best and may he rest in peace now that the game is truly over.

20 November 2005


Have you heard of them - The Proclaimers - the bespectacled twins Craig and Charlie Reid and their band? They have been around now for over twenty years. Their first hit throughout the English speaking world was "Letter From America" - about emigration from Scotland - sung not in a pretend American drawl but in the accent of eastern Scotland. Methil and Irvine - mentioned in the song - are grim coastal communities, grey Scottish places it would be hard to regret leaving.
About five years ago, the soundtrack of the first "Shrek" film included The Proclaimers' "I'm On My Way" which gave the band's fortunes a much needed lift. They're now on an extensive UK tour and tonight I caught them at The Winding Wheel concert hall in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. Great little venue and The Proclaimers were so tight, really giving each tune some welly, clearly enjoying themselves. By the time we got to an encore that included Roger Miller's "King of The Road" and the familiar "Five Hundred Miles", the place was rocking, everyone up out of their seats dancing along.
There's no frippery or pussy-footing about with Craig and Charlie - they're right there into the music - like Fife miners at the coalface doing their job - and the understanding they have on stage is perhaps the kind of harmony that only identical twins who have sung and written together for twenty years can convey. We went with Steve and Moira and Pete and Ann and there was unanimous agreement - The Proclaimers - a big thumb's up!

18 November 2005


This is an unashamed advertisement for "Google Earth". Have you been there? It's easy to load up and use as long as you have enough space on your hard drive. It's also easy to visualise how "Google Earth" will one day cover the entire planet in intricate detail and beyond that perhaps another distant day, people may even be able to watch every inch of our world moving in realtime close-up.
With "Google Earth" I have flown and swooped around the globe, focussing in on every place I have ever been and others besides - darkest Africa, the mysterious coast of Chile. The facility is at its best in certain urban zones such as Manhattan or central London, Rome or Paris. Watch out for the photographic strips that allow for closer inspection. Those Google eggheads - they have have given all computer users opportunities that science fiction of the past wouldn't have dared to anticipate and to me "Google Earth" is an amazing addition to the Google catalogue of wonder.
I have always loved maps. I possess lots of maps and have spent hours studying them. In the past, when others revealed their geographical ignorance, I used to be appalled. I have always been inquisitive about our world - it's like a burning need to know exactly where I am. Yet I have come to realise that not everyone cares about this - perhaps they're too busy living their lives to care about the names of the oceans or what the capital of Tahiti is or where you'll find the island of Spitzbergen. Map hunger possibly reveals something of my inner psychology - as if through geography I'll eventually be able to sort out the mystery of my existence. Of course I will never do that so in the meantime I'll be a rocketman courtesy of "Google Earth", scouring the globe for the hidden hills of my soul and the valleys of my heart, beside the turbulent waters of my memory.

10 November 2005


We called him Ian Philip. He was born twenty one years ago and he's my only son. I remember the joyous day of his birth and how when he emerged pink and slippery into this world, I forgot to notice his gender. What mattered was that this was a new life, a new human being and this stupendous fact blazed so brightly that the baby's sex didn't matter. The medical staff cleaned him up and I heard a nurse say, "You've got a lovely baby boy."
Ian is a very cool dude. People like him. He's his own man and he has lots of principles he has worked out for himself. He is instinctively kind and he has never been in any kind of trouble. Currently, he works in a men's fashion shop in the heart of Sheffield, selling clothing brands that mean nothing to me - "D-Squared" and "Vivienne Westwood" and other names I can't remember. I think in some ways, he is still working out where he wants life to take him. In the meantime, he is a loyal worker - never misses a day - just as in high school when over five years, he never missed a single day. I guess he follows me in that regard. We are very lucky with our health and very pig-headed. Our family motto ought to be - "If you're down, if you meet shit, just soldier on".
When you have children what do you want for them? An American woman I once knew said that her six month old baby would become a doctor. Me and Shirley - we just wanted our kids to grow up to be decent, happy people. Success can be measured in lots of ways. Being a good person matters more than just about anything to us. In my life, many of the rich, over-promoted or degree laden people I have met have turned out to be complete assholes. I'd rather walk with people who are true, who look you in the eye, accept you for what you are. It's like we are all on a cruise ship together - this is our voyage through time - there's no time for hurt or for point-scoring. We are all passengers together. In my mind, the school cleaner is equal to the politician and the bus driver is equal to the egotistical rock star.
Ian Philip is a special guy. I'm blessed to have a son like him and I put this out on the world wide web in public praise of him. Long after I have disembarked, he'll be taking the cruise ship way beyond my dreams.

6 November 2005


When I was eleven - in my last year of primary school - I had to deliver a prepared assembly talk to the rest of the village school. The only stipulation was that the talk had to be on a religious theme. In my bedroom, I started to scribble down all the reasons why, at that age, I was pretty much convinced that there was no such thing as "God". Though I didn't know it then, one of the key thrusts of my argument had been given a title by philosophers, namely - "The Problem of Evil".

The night before the assembly, I became nervous - I hadn't talked to a soul about my speech plans but something told me that atheist ramblings would not be much appreciated in a Church of England school. I dropped the idea and quickly cobbled together a little presentation about Daniel in the lions' den - bland and safe.

At a younger age, I had had this mental picture of God as an enormous being with long white hair and a long white beard with a kindly face - "Our father which art in heaven..." and he floated in a cloudy white world far above our planet, looking down, always appearing on his side in repose.

Today, as an adult, I am more convinced than ever that there is no God. Though I wouldn't wish to go into details, I have been right down at the bottom, cold and desperate and when I looked into the abyss I realised that there was no one there - no one there to help me. No God. And I think of the Twin Towers and of the recent earthquake in Pakistan and of rape and murder, Waco - Texas and The Reverend Jim Jones in Guyana, Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq and the London bombings and babies that die of AIDS and the crashing of aeroplanes and of man's inhumanity to man and I know for sure that there is no God.

This world we are living in is so beautiful and this is where we have a chance to make heaven. Why should we ever be so presumptuous as to expect more than this? Marx was right - religion really is "the opium of the people". It prevents clear vision and it perpetuates the myth of an afterlife. It is an obstacle to being. Religion seems to be about bigotry and self-interest. In the twentieth century, it was the underlying cause of just about every military and social conflict from Bosnia to Northern Ireland and from Kashmir to Palestine.

I live without God in the certain knowledge that the years I have left on Earth are all that I will ever have. There is no one up there, no one listening. This is it. God is a nice story and if it were true, life would unquestionably be much easier to bear. As it is, we have to look after ourselves and our fellow human beings because nobody else is going to do this for us.

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