The Beginning is Always Today

“I find it quite improbable that such order came out of chaos. There has to be some organizing principle. God to me is a mystery but is the explanation for the miracle of existence, why there is something instead of nothing.” Alan Sandage (winner of the Crawford prize in astronomy)

Science and religion have been at war for as long as man was able to think and question. How much simpler must the world have been when we wandered the earth with clubs, grunting and picking flies out of long disheveled beards? The religious would have us believe that we started as free-thinking intellectuals; serving God’s will until the steady decline of belief and incline of free-will. Scientists would have us believe we are the natural progression of particles and genetics; adapting to surroundings, fine-tuning the potential buried in complex brains. Do the believers have the answer or have the scientists figured it all out? Is it a combination of both?

Perhaps most importantly, does it matter?

Science is undoubtedly the most incredible achievement of human-kind. Discovery and technology have been the crowning glory of our species – we surprise ourselves with the rate of progression. None of this refers to me personally, of course, but I’ll gladly lump myself in with the generic population to feel part of it. A little worryingly, however, the birth of knowledge brings on the death of humility. The segregation between science and religion materializes – not because of the credibility of either – but because of the arrogance it inspires in any given follower.

The torch of superiority used to be carried by the religious; those that lived their lives to a biblical standard, clambering to set themselves above the rest with the man Himself. But inevitably, power and corruption nestled snugly in the midst of believers everywhere, institutions were built and destroyed; the want of power overturned the original concept of faith.

Regardless of how far we think we have come intellectually, we repeat the same patterns and processes as we did then.

Religious fanatics will start wars, promote terrorism, commit mass-murder and fulfill hateful vengeance all in the name of God. Science provides the tools to win the wars; creating weapons with maximum impact and fatalities as an objective. Whichever side of the fence you sit on in the science vs God debate, haven’t we all gone a bit too far?

Personally, I like the idea of faith and belief in something a little higher up than ourselves. I don’t know that my belief or, not to sound too Mulder-esq, my willingness to believe, confirms me as either side of the argument. I like the comfort I have seen faith provide an old woman on her death-bed; a family praying for a critically injured daughter; a friend suffering a tragic and inconsolable loss. I love the unity in church, the notion that it’s not ‘all about us’, not to mention the culture, architecture and art faith has inspired in every country across the world. Someone with faith is what I aspire to be – I don’t ridicule people who believe whole-heartedly in something more than the immediately visable: I envy them.

I never fail to be amused by how irate the science camp get when trying to conduct a discussion about it. Ever since Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’ hit the bookshelves, I seem to be surrounded by people assuming I just ‘haven’t thought it through’. A patronizing and somewhat lackluster argument. I’m not dismissing his thoughts as a possibility – I just don’t find it overly convincing.

My favourite aspect of Dawkins’ effort has to be his religion as a ‘mind virus’ theory. He places the personal beliefs of many down to memes; an entirely theoretical phenomena wherein cultural ideas and practices can be transmitted from one brain to another through written-word, speech, action, etc. Was the success he enjoyed after this publication, the hype it created, the merry band of atheists practically weeping with joy at the very public attack on religion all down to memes too? No, of course not. I suspect Dawkins would say that these people were simply free-thinking, intellectuals. No band-wagons here, no sir.

And this is where I part ways with scientific belief. I am as awed by the accumulated knowledge as anyone else, but I detest the arrogance. Scientists can examine and discover patterns in nature, but their work is never done and they have, on occasion been known to get it very, very wrong. Dawkins is just one example, but he was antagonistic from the off. He didn’t present his book as an option, a discussion, an opinion – he laid it down as fact. He threw in the word ‘delusion’ for anyone who thought they might disagree.

This is not to say that religion has not had it’s share of the bat-shit-crazy. I am as irritated by the works of Aquinas, as I am by Dawkins, and for the very same fundamental reasons. I simply don’t like the insinuation that people are unintelligent because they have a slightly different take on the world. What is this overwhelming need people have to be agreed with? In the history and future of time, our life-spans are not even a full-sized drop in an infinite ocean – so it seems pointless to waste so much time and energy desperately grappling for validation.

Three years ago, on a day very much like today – perhaps a little sunnier, I was picking up a canister of Helium from a warehouse  in Eynsham. It rattled around in the boot of my car as I negotiated the narrow roads back to work, where my partner in crime, Hannah, waited around the side of the building with one hundred yellow balloons. We set to work, filling them with Helium, and though grateful for the short reprieve from our desks, our moods were sombre.

At eleven o’clock, our colleagues started to filter out of the front door – each of them clutching a little piece of cardboard. Without asking them to, they formed a queue at our little table and waited to be handed a balloon. They tied their cards to the end of the string and waited patiently while everyone else did the same. I remember being moved by the solidarity of them all. People who didn’t always get on, constantly bickered and hated their work, suddenly and so very briefly, only had smiles for each other.

The cards were personal, we didn’t read them out, so I can only tell you what mine said:

Madeleine,

Prayers for you, your family, and with eternal hope that you’ll be found safe and sound one day.

Gemma.

When Madeleine McCann disappeared on the 3rd of May 2007, the world held it’s breath for her return. Though thousands of children are abducted every year, the publicity surrounding Madeleine brought the issue sharply into focus. A world-wide man-hunt began, with people everywhere keeping a look out for the little girl with the brown fleck in her right eye.

From the day we released the balloons and watched them sail away over the Oxfordshire countryside, I have frequented the Find Madeline website. As was inevitable, the media-hype surrounding Madeleine died down, people continued on with their lives and we heard less and less of the progress Gerry and Kate McCann made in the search for their daughter.

I’m always so moved by their blog posts; the relentless way in which they look for their little girl. Though most of the world believes the worst, they refuse to give up hope until it’s definite.

As a parent of an abducted child, I can tell you that it is the most painful and agonising experience you could ever imagine. My thoughts of the fear, confusion and loss of love and security that my precious daughter has had to endure are unbearable – crippling. And yet I am not the victim, Madeleine is. No child should EVER have to experience something so terrible. ~ Kate McCann

As the third anniversary of Madeleine’s disappearance passes quietly by, I will hope that a fourth never arrives and the McCann’s are either reunited with their daughter, or able to put her to rest, at last.

http://www.findmadeleine.com/home.html

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Official-Find-Madeleine-Campaign/113819004930?ref=ts

http://twitter.com/findmadeleine

A bee is never as busy as it seems; it’s just that it can’t buzz any slower. ~Kin Hubbard

Busy. That is my excuse for the extreme blog-related-tardiness. That, and a lack of internet access outside of working hours. But the busy really has taken over everything of late. I’m slightly concerned that middle-aged phrases like ‘there just aren’t enough hours in the day’ are starting to make sense to me. I found an hour. One whole hour to sit down and write yesterday. It’s a shame I can’t find more than an hour because the screen-play I’m building brick by slow brick, might actually be the best thing I’ve ever written.

But alas, it will have to be a very timely project. Hopefully, I’ll be finished before I die and might live to see what kind of response I get from the BBC Writer’s Room.

This is life in a nut-shell at the moment. Or at least the bits that stand out from the last few months.

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The Wedding March has a bit of a death march in it. ~ Brian May

Francis and I, with a pragmatic finality that has become typical of us, decided we’d get married in Cyprus in June. We wanted small and intimate, laid back and casual. For anyone bitching about how difficult it is to plan the perfect fairy-tale wedding, I’m here to tell you that it’s twice the headache if you want something simple. For example, an email exchange between myself and the wedding planner from a Cypriote Hotel:

ME:

Good morning,

I’m interested in booking a wedding at your hotel and was wondering if you could give me a little more information about the location and facilities. We anticipate around 30 guests and would like a very casual ceremony with a BBQ and music afterwards.

Best wishes,

Gemma Love.

RESPONSE:

Dear Gemma,

Here at the _________ Hotel, we would love to help you plan  your special day. Our inside hall seats up to 150 people. The chairs will all be decorated with personalized covers, we have a red carpet for you to walk along and can arrange a string quartette to play you down the aisle.

For the reception, we provide a lavish 4 course meal, pink champagne and a 4 tiered wedding cake. The release of doves is optional.

The email went on for quite some time, outlining various cringe-worthy packages we could take advantage of. Francis and I are very private, down-to-earth people. Putting me in a big white dress and forcing him into some hideous tux with satin waist-coat and button-hole, is comparable to asking David Dimbleby to throw a bikini on and do the macarena.

The dress hunt was epic. A washing machine style tangle of hating wedding dresses and not really wanting to buy one due to unforeseen jitters. I had horrific visions of ball-gown style meringue-ness, satin and taffeta, and some tacky princess-style tiara. Luckily, with only three weeks to spare, I was bullied mercilessly into buying a dress I have since grown to love, by two of my favourite people. Jen and Alex have my eternal gratitude for bringing an end to my rapidly approaching wedding-despair. I always have believed that bullying is the true mark of friendship.

So now the outfits are sorted, the venue’s booked, the holiday clothes are bought and the only thing left to do is get on the plane.

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From the naturalistic point of view, all men are equal. There are only two exceptions to this rule of naturalistic equality: geniuses and idiots. ~ Mikhail Bakunin

I think idiots are breeding. Seriously, we’re surrounded.

For the past few months, I’ve encountered one inconceivable twat after another. I’m not just talking about a mental deficiency either, I’m talking calculated, thought-out, I-can’t-believe-you’re-such-an-arsehole, idiocy.

First, and the most irritating of the twats, our ex-landlord / letting agent. Who deemed it appropriate to try and charge us £460 for a cracked sink. I can only assume sinks are incredibly expensive in whichever Oxfordshire-suburb he dwells in, but where I come from, that’s tantamount to asking someone’s permission before you steal their wallet, jewelry and shoes. I sincerely hope he falls up the stairs and hurts his shin.

The rest of the twats are comprised of a mother-daughter duo continuously promoting their hideous and naff hand-knitted goods on other people’s profile pages, and a massively deranged psychotic with nothing better to do than trawl the internet bitterly handing out judgement to people they have neither met or ever really spoken to.

Be warned. They’re all over the place.

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I must take issue with the term ‘a mere child’, for it has been my invariable experience that the company of a mere child is infinitely preferable to that of a mere adult. ~ Fran Lebowitz

And finally, my little girl turned one a couple of weeks ago. Despite usually leaving my mental audit of the previous twelve months until New Years Eve, I found myself looking back and assessing how I’d done with parenthood.

Izzy’s birthday was entirely

perfect; a BBQ with family, the closest of friends and the most awesome birthday cake hand-made by my sister, the Police woman turned sugar-craft expert.

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Life Lessons: Things to take away from the last few months

  • Find time to update your blog
  • Don’t get married, it’s too much hassle
  • Don’t buy children expensive presents – they play with the wrapping paper instead
  • Never buy pets, particularly rats, if you have children. Ever. You’ll incur the wrath of internet mongs

‘And out of the Darkwood Mr Toppit comes, and he comes not for you, or for me, but for all of us’

For struggling children’s writers everywhere, or even for those merely envious of Rowling, Dahl and Milne, comes a cautionary tale of the dangers of fame, obsession and creativity.

The Hayseed Chronicles are the brain-child of Arthur Hayman who immortalises his son Luke as a pantaloon-wearing, dreamy adolescent who seems to be the hand-picked adversary of the sinister Mr Toppit. The books are somewhat unknown; published by a tiny company and relatively ignored for the first few years of their literary life. Arthur’s death, the result of an unfortunate encounter with a cement truck, unearths many of the ugly truths that lie dormant under the floorboards of the Hayman family and sets to unravel them all.

Grotesque american tourist, Laurie, who is present at Arthur’s death, develops an unhealthy attachment to the Hayman legacy and eventually propels The Hayseed Chronicles into the literary spotlight – a frenzy that would likely rival Rowling’s Harry Potter. The rest of the book details the family’s spiral into serious dysfunction, their struggle with depression, the past and the inevitable fame Arthur’s books bring into their lives.

Told mainly from the perspective of reluctant celebrity Luke Hayman, Mr Toppit seemingly has it all: Death, adultery, infatuation, obsession – and yet falls somewhere short of taking the reader along for the ride. Undoubtedly well-written, with carefully constructed media-hype beforehand (reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project‘s build up before the premier), Mr Toppit should be a gripping read. I found, however that despite all of the above, I struggled to care about any of the characters. The layers of the story were there but left unexplored – construction was very obviously above depth in Elton’s priorities.

And what of the sinister, illusive Mr Toppit? Quite on purpose, Mr Toppit means many things to many different people – everyone has an opinion they want to share, everyone has an epiphany about his role in the Hayseed Chronicles and how he fit into their lives. So he becomes the dark presence in all of their lives; the shadows, the secrets, the fear and worry.

Worth reading? Sure. It’s definitely worth picking up if you find yourself wanting something to read at your own leisure – but it certainly won’t have you grabbing for it whenever you find a few spare minutes between chores. It’s not an urgent book, a compulsive story and I certainly wouldn’t have curled up under a blanket with a cup of tea and stayed there for hours with it. More than anything, it made me slightly sad to think of what the book could have been if the characters had been a little more identifiable, likeable or even a little more developed.

However, there is this one thing that I really liked (always a sucker for a good Marketing gimic) – the Hardback edition, quite impressively, sheds it’s dust-cover to reveal the jacket image of The Hayseed Chronicles. And if, after you read the book, you completely disagree with me and want to know more – there’s always The Big Blog of Hayseed to get your fix.

http://mrtoppit.wordpress.com/

It’s a fundamental rule of acceptable social behaviour, that you don’t leap to the defence of murderers.  Quite apart from placing your sanity firmly into question, it’s just plain creepy.

So why is it, Hollywood repeatedly casts the dark, dangerous and twisted in roles wherein I find myself inwardly swooning? Example number one – and I think you’ll agree it’s a stunning example. A beautiful example. An example, I’d be happy to get in a room with.

Ah, Johnny. But not just any Johnny – no sir. Dark, twisty, dangerous, Johnny. I watched Public Enemies for the first time on Saturday night and this is what I found weird:

John Dillinger (Depp’s character) was a real bank robber in the American mid-west during the 1930’s. Linked with notorious criminals such as Babyface Nelson and compared in calibre to the likes of Bonnie and Clyde; he was responsible for the deaths of several police officers and generally terrorized society with other infamous bandits for a period of four years. Sinister, no? Actually, no. To quote my housemate: “Wouldn’t it have been amazing to be part of that?”

Has Hollywood sensationalized the devil-may-care attitude to the extent that it’s now attractive? Or is it just an inevitable part of being a free-thinking human? Would we always have looked at Dillinger and fantasized about living his life, carrying his gun, feeling his adrenaline? I don’t think it hurts that Johnny Depp’s the lead role – that man was attractive with scissors for hands, but the character – his overwhelming sense of confidence and arrogance mixed with a vulnerability so palpable that all you want to do is give him a big hug, is incredibly hard to resist. I don’t think there’s a woman in the world who could honestly say they wouldn’t want to have been the girl he singled out in the crowd. Am I single handedly setting the women’s movement back a hundred years by wondering if deep down, us girls just want to be looked after by a strong, defensive and adventurous man? What a thought. I’m expecting angry hairy feminists to knock the door down at any moment.

Example 2.

Now Dexter isn’t your usual run-of-the-mill bandit. He’s a (fictional) serial killer with an acute sense of self-awareness. He knows he wants to kill and he does so with finesse and elegance. The script is witty and articulate, the story lines engaging and gripping – and though Dexter, on the surface is a loveable, slightly quirky blood-spatter expert for the police, he is still the embodiment of everything us sane humans should find repulsive. He kills for no other reason than self-gratification. Despite having channelled his extra-curricular activities into something fairly useful for society (I won’t spoil it, I’ll let you watch it – because you definitely should watch it), the bottom line is, he is a murderer. A killer. A beautiful, beautiful man. Wait. What?

That’s right – Hollywood’s done it again. The man is ridiculously attractive – and not just physically. Which led me on to my next train of thought – do all women want to tame the wild ones? Is it a core flaw of being female that makes us look at the men who refuse to convert to social norms and think he’d be different for me. And is that Hollywood’s fault as well?

All of the dark, sinister, tortured male characters seem to find the one woman who makes them want all of the normal things. Dillenger found his girl, Dexter manages a relationship, Edward found his Bella, Spike found his Buffy, etc… With characters like Dexter, the LA big-shots seem to be pushing the boat out. First it was the James Dean characters who simply didn’t care what people thought of them, then it went a bit further with the Jack Bouers of the world – the men who have a job to do but harbour the giant, beating heart of a soppy labrador. Then it stepped up a gear – the paranormal set in; the monsters like Buffy’s Spike whose nature it was to kill, but he overcame that to win his desired. And now, the paranormal takes a back-seat. Suddenly, we have the everyday monsters we see on the news, inspiring characters to identify with. People who kill people with no cosmic excuse.

Let me be clear – I’m not having a whinge. I’m as much caught up in the hype as everyone else is. But it is a strange direction to take – it seems we’re getting harder to please, and so Hollywood has to step up it’s game and delve a little further into the dark to satisfy our hunger for stories. I have no idea what they’ll think of next; but I would quite like a sneak peak at TV shows in five years time…

I’m the kind of sympathetic character who finds it impossible to stick to my resolutions about someone in the face of background knowledge.  I can rant and rave about the idiocy of ideas and policies, but confronted with fundamental truths about the person in question, I find I am unable to hold on to my original opinions.

Case in point – yesterday, I watched the Piers Morgan interview with Gordon Brown. Now, I have to admit that Brown has been sneaking into favour with me for sometime anyway – for the simple reason that he has suddenly become quite the under-dog. I don’t doubt that he’s socially inept, makes inconsistent choices about the future of our country and has been known to occasionally bore his audience to a comatose-state with the sound of his voice; but still, the hate campaign perpetrated by the British Media seems infantile and reminiscent of playground bullying. I am not a fan of bullying in any way, shape or form and it’s not an unfamiliar past-time of mine to wade in if I see it and try to rectify some of the damage. I just feel like our brainless population takes the headlines of tabloids and turns them gospel. Regurgitating sound-bites and views as their own without really understanding what they mean. I don’t claim to have a political mind – far from it. The ins and outs of parliament leave me rocking backwards and forwards vowing to never look into it again; but from a purely personal perspective, I quite like that we have so many people fighting for the chance to lead the country. Democracy is a beautiful thing, people.

Back to Gordon Brown. His interview – which yes, I am well aware went  ahead with the specific intention of sparking exactly the reaction I had, was  just the same, incredibly interesting. The adverts all played snippets from  the five minutes he spent talking about his daughter who sadly died ten days  after being born, and while it’s incredibly sad and undoubtedly a tragedy in  every sense of the word, I found that the stories, photos and interviews from  his own childhood were much more intriguing. The young boy in the black  and white stills is studious and serious; revolutionising his own university  campus by gaining power that students had never sought or gained before.  Think what you will about Gordon Brown, the boy in these photographs had  dreams and ambitions; he wanted to change the world. In young adults, we  find that charming – in ‘proper grown-ups’ we find it childish. People  stopped listening to the PM years ago; whoever stands in office is no longer  seen as a leader – he is quite simply, the one we blame for everything.

Forgive me, but I’d not want that job for all the tea in china.

I’m not particularly labour-oriented. My parents remain steadfastly conservative, and I kind of swing around, faulty pendulum style, wishing there was a party that incorporated all of my favourite bits from each. My main problem is being unable to distinguish between policies and people. I feel for Gordon Brown and I admire the ambition he had as a child. I was even somewhat fond of Tony Blair. I don’t think we’ll see another PM of Churchill’s calibre in our life-time, but surely we should be trying to see the future through the eyes of our leader? I’m sad that the world is now such a cynical place, that no one is willing to see the vision behind the actions.

http://www.itv.com/itvplayer/video/?Filter=121698

Things I’m bored of hearing about:

MP Expenses Scandal ~ Politicians are not entirely honest. Massive surprise there. On the plus side, they’re the ones running the country, which leaves people like me free to not worry about Health Care, benefits, the education system, public transport, emergency services, etc… Tax is a royal rogering with a long stick, granted – but hardly the end of the world and it could be a lot worse. Let the MP have his duck-house for God’s sake.

Michael Jackson ~ The hypocrisy of the public en-masse is hilarious. Up until he died, everyone was still convinced he was a paedophile and ridiculed his lifestyle, rare out-door appearances and his obsession with plastic surgery. But as usual, being dead grants certain concessions – now he is hailed the King of Pop and people gush over him with adjectives like beautiful, incredible, selfless etc. (Highly reminiscent of Jade Goody the racist-turned-saviour or Princess Diana the hussy-turned-well, Princess.)  The man was talented a long time ago. Had a lot of issues. Died. All very sad. Please stop talking about it now.

Things to love this week:

A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile

The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman ~ Easy lunchtime reading for the aspiring writer.

Very accessible with an array of helpful tips on dialogue and content for those all important first pages of a novel. Lukeman is a playwrite, literary agent and author of other such guides. Well worth a read if you’re having problems getting a publisher interested.

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And this:

Dan Woolley said Tuesday on The Today Show that he was in Haiti filming a documentary on the efforts to help the poverty-stricken children of the nation.  Woolley was at the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince when the 7.0 earthquake hit and the hotel collapsed around him.

Woolley is crediting his iPhone medical app, Pocket First Aid & CPR, for saving his life.  He used the light on his iPhone to examine his injuries .  Using the medical app on his iPhone, he was able to diagnose a broken foot and follow the instruction to treat himself.  He used his shirt to treat the excessive bleeding from the 3-inch cut on his leg and a sock to one on the back of his head.  He was also able to look up ways to prevent himself from going into shock.

“I kind of had some time to do some self-diagnosis down there,” Woolley said. “God was with me.”

Thanks to the iPhone app Woolley was able to return to Colorado Wednesday after spending time recovering at a Hospital in Miami.

Amazing, no?
Remember – app = 59p, Saving lives = priceless. (Apologies – have been posessed by the spirit of Mastercard)
Happy Monday one and all 😀

How lazy have I been?

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