What are these people on?

Browsing the Torygraph this morning (Because I like a smug giggle), I came across this article in the Financial section about the electrical retailer, Comet, going tits up. Nothing to gloat about. I feel sorry for the people both in the stores and head office losing gainful employment. Did a couple of small contract jobs for that group back on the late 90’s. No complaints. What troubles me is the way these stories are presented nowadays. You’d think the taxman actually invested in these companies, rather that the company paying VAT, Business rates on all their premises, Employers and Employee taxes and NHI, and all the other little cheese parings the taxman gleans off every single thing in sight. Yet there are a bunch of dead heads whining that companies don’t pay “Their fair share”.

Bearing that in mind, I’d like to ask what exactly is a companies “Fair share”? The tax rates and rules are set by the Treasury, and any company is bound by law to cough up according to those rules. Unless of course the taxman is a creditor when said company goes bust and there’s no more money. Even then, the taxman has to take its turn. That is the law. Yet the raucous self-entitled are found clogging up the ‘Comments’ section, displaying their complete lack of financial acumen. They can’t tell debt from revenue or turnover, and seem to think that just because there’s a number, you have to pay tax on it.

Talk about dumb……

Here we go again.

Another day, another tragedy. Another media circus. Another opportunity for the collectivist ‘ban everything’ brigade to wallow in false emotion and wave their nasty anti freedom agenda in everyone’s face.

27 people, many of them children, died not simply because an Aspergers sufferer got hold of his Mothers guns, shot her, then went to shoot up the school where she worked. Nor were Thomas Hamilton (Dunblane), Anders Breivik (Norway), and Robert Ryan (Hungerford) so simple as the ‘nutter with guns’ assertion. Nor countless others which do not receive anywhere near the same media attention. Guns are used to kill, therefore guns are bad, ban guns, goes the argument. The same case could be made against Sabatier kitchen knives, ceremonial swords, ice axes, steel capped safety boots, glass bottles, logging axes or rocks. Or even a qualification in martial arts or possession of exceptional physical strength. Amongst many others.

Yet none of the calls for regulation will address the underlying issue. Why certain people go AWOL and lash out blindly. If you choose to read this book by David M Buss, you will be told that the human mind is designed for homicide.` We are killers. All of us. It’s a feature of the standard human psyche. Yet most would faint at the very notion because our killer within is only unleashed under certain, very specific, circumstances. Most will never, ever, find themselves in those circumstances, or more to the point, never let themselves be pushed that far. They’re too well balanced and socialised.

So what is the single thing that all these multiple, and seemingly random killings have in common? Guns? Well, as a tool, certainly, but that is only superficially true. The real motivation can be summed up in one word; frenzy. A mania, or unbalanced state of mind. Extreme, uncontrolled anger unleashed. To use the vernacular; ‘Going postal’. Yet even that is not anywhere near the whole answer. Where does the frustration come from that generates these tragedies? For me, this comment over at ZeroHedge is as close to the true answer as I’ve seen anywhere else;

As long as they keep focusing on the tool rather than behavior, culture and personal responsibility there will be no progress.

Think about it.

The vast majority will never resort to physical violence simply because someone looks at us the ‘wrong’ way. Generally speaking, people either fear the consequences or such an action would never occur to them in the first place. Offering physical harm to others is not something the average human does as a first resort. We are taught not to. Well, most of us. We are taught to talk rather than fight or shoot. To voice our frustrations before we hit boiling and the lid blows off. To have acceptable social outlets.

All the bans, regulation and repressive rules will not solve anything because the real issues are more deeply rooted. Banning legal firearms will leave the only guns in the hands of Government agencies or criminals. Some would argue there’s little difference between these two factions, apart from the membership criteria.

What do they do with it all?

There’s been a fair bit of whining in the UK press by various jackboot apologists complaining that various parties don’t pay ‘their fair share’ of tax. Yet as I recall, even when we lived in that beknighted part of the world, I calculated that sixty percent of all our joint outgoings went into the massively inefficient state sausage machine. Sure, we got a little back in child benefit and odds and ends, but when we had to spend it, tranches went in paying tax on those necessary purchases like stuff for school, clothing, food etc, so we were really no better off. Proportionately speaking, our overall disposable income shrank, year on year.

Let me essay an example here; say you want to send a Christmas present to friends or family to and within the UK. Base cost of purchase will invoke various taxes including VAT, yet every component on your heartfelt generosity is already stained with the patina of tax. Raw materials are taxed, the employees are taxed, employers / employees NHI, property taxes / business rates, tax on energy and energy usage, it all mounts up. despite tax breaks, there is no such thing as ‘revenue neutral’. On anything. The taxman bites everywhere. Argue all you want. Dig a little, and the levels of taxation become obvious.

Like a leech, the tax take affects everything, even indirectly by putting up a manufacturers or distributors costs. The price of gasoline (Petrol) increases, so does the proportionate tax. Therefore the cost of anything that needs to be transported or made goes up and inflation increases. This is economics kindergarten, or 101 as they say over here.

Okay, so that’s established how thoroughly the UK is taxed, both directly and indirectly. Only barter between neighbours and growing your own from your own seed remains untouched. For how long this state of affairs continues is anyone’s guess, considering the current desperation of the UK taxman.

So; my heading question remains. What does the UK Government do with your hard earned? Well, there’s the basics. The NHS, which currently employs about 1.18 million people (1.1 million of whom are classed as “Non clinical” Official figures for August 2012 from here). In 1995, the total health budget came in at 46.1 Billion. 2000 was 49.6 Billion. 2005, 82.9 Billion. 2010, 118.2 Billion. 2011, 121.3 Billion. figures from here, which are culled from official sources.

What else? Lobbying itself via certain QUANGO’s and NGO’s which are basically jobs for family and friend to pay off, or buy political favours. Spends it on unnecessary things even the most bling obsessed shopping junkie might say “Whoa, that’s a bit pricey, innit?”. Like IT projects to monitor everyone’s movements / financial transactions / Internet use. Gets the country involved in expensive wars, then lets the enemy in through the back door and can’t or won’t chuck them out because of their ‘ooman rights’. Wastes it on boondoggles. The list is almost, but not quite infinite. Not to mention having such a complex compliance culture that everything, including Nietzsche’s ‘raising of the wrist’ costs multiples of it’s base cost. Which the taxpayer has to stump up for. Even then they will rarely get it right.

Which rather answers a couple of questions; “What do they spend it all on?” and “What cuts?” The figures speak for themselves. Yet they want more? Crazy. What happened to the ‘Bonfire of the Quangos? Amongst all the other promises.

The final countdown

Just glanced at the little countdown app I’ve got at the bottom of the blog page. According to the some sources, the Mayans, who ran out of stones or maybe even sacrificed the stonecarvers, whatever before they could cut the follow on pages, the world ‘ends’ in ten days from now. Ten days. That’s all you’ve got before we get hit by some planet no one can detect. Or a similarly undetectable black hole. Or wise Aliens coming to pick up all the crusties from a French Mountain. Which would be jolly nice of these alleged superintelligent Aliens. What they might do with said crusties hasn’t been mentioned. Open the airlocks half way to their mystical planet or something, perhaps. Just to do something about the smell.

Ten days. That’s it.

Bit of a pisser if you’ve ordered a big turkey to feed a houseful.

What is really going on?

Watching the current slew of ‘paedo’ celebrity shock-horror-yawn stories coming out if the UK, my nasty suspicious mind is wondering things like “Why now?” and “Where have all these accusers been for the past forty years?” Also, why do the media report ‘Paedophile‘ when they really mean ‘Ephebophile‘ which is more of a grey area. In a few cases the answer to the ‘where have they been’ question has been ‘There all along’ and fair do’s to any real victims for sticking it out for all these years. In others, my sympathy is mitigated. Why has this scandal taken so long to get this far? Surely all those politicians who famously spout about ‘Social justice’ should have taken notice of the complainants and brought these accusations to light when some of the alleged perpetrators were still alive? As for the victims, what do all these people who must now be in their fifties and sixties have to gain after so long? What changed?

To anybody who can even claim the vaguest worldliness, the knowledge that showbiz has had its camp followers below the legal age of consent comes as no surprise. When I was in High School, there were certain girls and boys who might be called ‘sexually precocious’. Hitting puberty was their cue to shed all inhibitions and gain experience in matters sexual a.s.a.p. regardless of the legalities. The joke about not being able to find a virgin over the age of thirteen was why the Druids had packed up and left was common currency. During my senior High School years I recall three girls from our year alone disappearing from school specifically due to unplanned pregnancy. About sixty percent of the rest were known not just to have lost their virginity, but gleefully discarded it at the first opportunity. This sort of thing was commonplace. Girls and boys of fourteen and fifteen onwards were, and probably still are becoming sexually active at that age. Some openly bragged about their conquests. Even if it was only the lead singer (or even the drummer or roadie) in one of the local bands. So long as they were willing, it wasn’t a problem. No injury, no foul, right? That was common thinking at the time. So why the outcry now? Forty years on.

As an aside, I’m willing to let slip a 100% true personal anecdote here. During my time walking the streets as a UK parking enforcer, I was having a sniff around a black Range Rover parked on double yellows outside a local venue. The usual. Checking for disabled badges and the like before booking. Can’t recall exact dates, but I could tell you the places to an inch, even after over seven years. Saw the ‘Police’ sign on the front dash, and noted the non civilian issue radio, and decided to let well alone. Everything about that vehicle said ‘plain clothes Police’, and I was already walking away when this harrassed young guy, mid 20’s, dark grey two piece suit, comes rushing out of the building by the double yellows, warrant card in hand. I stopped, noting the flash of concealed holster as his open suit jacket drifted up in a passing breeze. He explained slightly breathlessly that I shouldn’t give his Ranger a parking ticket as he was an on duty Police Officer, working personal protection for a specific senior Labour Politician, currently visiting a theatrical event performed by some young girls. I replied, saying I’d already twigged the dashboard sign and the radio, and had thus decided to walk away. I recall making a flip but scathing remark about the politician in question and lost pension funds, laughed, and resumed my foot patrol. At the time, the young officer had the grace to look vaguely embarrassed. End of incident.

In light of the current scandal, one suspicion flags up in the back of my mind. Given the then status of the politician in question, I was surprised we weren’t given the ‘hands off’ signal from control and told walk on by. Why was he making unannounced visits to see some obscure junior troup perform? If a Cabinet minister had passed though the small town I used to patrol, I would expect to be given at least some idea of where not to go at the morning briefing or over the cellphone or old radios we used to lug around. Yet this very senior politician was in our town, ‘flying under the radar’ as it were. Now I’m sure that everything was completely above board and innocent, but every now and then I catch the whiff of a deceased Rattus Norvegicus. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes not, but it doesn’t stop me wondering. Why the secrecy? Unless he was afraid of being lynched.

Yet I can’t believe real victims have been keeping silent until now. Or as Anna Raccoon has documented about the alleged scandal at Duncroft, in her several autobiographical posts about ‘past lives and present misgivings‘. All of which seem to highlight certain allegations as being at best factually flawed. Which begs the question; what is the rolling ‘showbiz paedo’ scandal really covering up? More pertinently, how much more oppressive legislation is it going to be used as an apologia for?

Update: Ta ever so to Anna and team for the link and extra traffic. Although I don’t really think there’s any plot, just normal human greed and stupidity. Which many UK and European politicians seem to suffer from more than anyone else. Indeed, if events are any guide it seems to be prerequisite for the job.

As an additional comment on the issue of a pair of lame Australian DJ’s doing crap impersonations to humiliate people they’re never likely to meet (That’s them off the New Years honours list). Every single dingbatted action by idiots seems to be adopted by various jackbooted cheerleaders as cause célèbre for state control of everything in everybody’s lives. Even when it’s nothing to do with the Interweb. Because you could bet your last ten cents some tabloid would have broken the story, and the lame DJ’s would have made the call anyway. What’s the matter with those thinking that Government is going to be any good at regulating everyone’s opinions? Why do these morons think Civil Servants would be the go-to guys for sorting everyone else’s problems out? Especially when you look at such people get their advice from in their sacred little bubble existences.

When it comes down to it, there are times when even the cleverest people on Gods green Earth can’t summon up the mental wherewithal to wipe their own arses properly. Indeed, academia is rife with individuals who may be able to solve Fermats last theorem, but couldn’t find their own underpants if they were honked over their heads. People whose major life ambition is a protected life with pots of taxpayer dosh and nice holidays (I’ve met some of them). Yet these are the unworldly sources the statists claim know all the answers? I don’t think so.

All your interwebs belong to us (again)

A lot of kak is currently being talked about ‘regulating the Internet’ mainly by politicians who don’t seem to understand the medium. They seem to think that the dying mainstream press (owned or controlled by them) needs subsidising against what Glenn Reynolds called ‘An Army of Davids’. A mostly unpaid and unsubsidised bunch of amateurs. Shock! Horror! ‘Professional Journalists’ beaten by a bunch of mere amateur scribblers! SOMETHING MUST BE DONE! Cue Dalek like repetitions of “Regulate! Regulate! Exterminate!” from vested interests and those with something to hide. Including, and especially, the United Nations, which is looking increasingly like an organisation well past its sell-by date.

Okay, let’s be a bit more dispassionate, shall we? Why is the mainstream losing ground against the many voices on the ultra-connected sources of the Internet? I have a one word answer; Integrity. The Internet is the great leveller of information playing fields. The teller of uncomfortable truths, and, let’s be fair, a whole lot of bullshit as well, but at least that pile of crap is obvious and visible, accessible for fact checking and verification. It’s a full on assault on the sensibilities. Unlike the monochrome, one sided cut and pastedness of the mainstream, where too many press releases get uncritically reposted as incontrovertible facts.

For as long as I can remember, even before the Internet, I’ve heard tales of Journalistic ‘Integrity’. Misquoted interviewees. Cheque book journalism. Garbage rummaging, to name but three. Not to mention important stories ‘spiked’ (rejected) by editorial policy.

To suggest that “It’s all the fault of the Internet” as Boris Johnson (amongst others) did today in the UK’s Daily Telegraph is therefore a palpable, noisome, egregious nonsense. Never mind the impossibility of regulating every single voice and blog. It’s too big. Even highly censorious regimes have serious trouble keeping the drip-drip of dissenting voices silent. As for Theresa May’s “Anyone who doesn’t support regulation has blood on their hands” assertion, why do the presses not jam, their servers not melt and crash under such a heinous untruth?

My response? Anyone supporting such regulation is an obvious Statist, and as such to be viewed with automatic suspicion. Someone who is not worthy of trust. Warning! Danger! Danger! Will Robinson!H/T This post at|Counting Cats
Shop an Extremist today

There is a way the mainstream can survive and prosper. If they want to compete, they’re going to have to smarten up their collective act. Be more honest, rediscover the meaning of Journalistic integrity. Print only that which can be independently verified, and not by any ‘regulator’ – the facts have their own voices which need no outside help. Then the ‘lost’ readers will return; slowly at first, but in increasing numbers and revenues will climb. Not that I’m holding my breath waiting for such a miracle to occur, that is.

Simplistic but pithy

This Land Is Mine from Nina Paley on Vimeo.

Cartoon characters dramatis personae on this blog post. Yes, it’s not totally historically accurate, but that’s just nit-picking. Whenever I lurk past a blog touching on the perennial troubles in the Eastern Med, I’m forever amazed at the virulence of the far left and right on this topic. Not that there’s any real difference between either viewpoint, totalitarians to a knuckledragger that they are.

By way of comparison; in some pubs I frequented in my youth, mainly in certain University towns, simply uttering the word ‘Israel’ loudly in particular bars was, and probably still is, enough to start a fight. It rather reminds me of the mindless tribalism that goes on around football teams. An old friend of mine claimed he occasionally did this sort of thing for fun, but then he really liked fighting and beating the shit out of people. He was good at it; no names, no pack drill, and I know for a fact he once hospitalised a black belt because his opponent thought that a pub car park brawl worked the same way as a dojo. Newsflash; for anyone tempted to try it, it doesn’t. The same rules do not apply because there aren’t any. Visit any inner city Emergency department late on a Saturday night or early hours of Sunday morning for proof.

Yet I never understood why the existence of Israel as a nation is so offensive to those without obvious skin in the game. Why they were often willing to pitch into a scrap with a far more aggressive and experienced bar fighter over a country they really knew bugger all about, and never been to. I freely admit to knowing little about the region apart from that they’ve always been fighting.

Nina Paley’s video above rather puts this endless aggression into perspective. People have been so busy fighting over that particular chunk of real estate (And over the religions from that area) for so long, I think they’ve forgotten how to stop. You’d think after over four millennia of ping pong like mayhem people would learn. You know, maybe all the various parties could decide that the near constant killing is just pointless and decide simply trying to co-exist for a change. Do business. Do what the Zionists started, which is actually buy title to the land and sell stuff. Own it that way. On the other hand, I think that just shows pointless naivete and optimism on my part. Like Kashmir and any one of a dozen other semi-permanent war zones around the globe, fighting and killing is too ingrained as part of the way of life. The killing would continue regardless of any rationalising self justification or holy book, or lack thereof.

As the video predicts; if matters continue in the current vein, no doubt it will all end in tears, and any ‘victory’ will be cataclysmically Pyrrhic. For all concerned. Yet perhaps there is hope.

All the aforementioned gives me an idea; maybe if the various peoples involved turned their semi-permanent war into some kind of regular sporting fixture. Level the playing field. Pile a load of weapons and ammo in the middle of a football stadium or other large sporting venue, then let the interested parties have at it in private four times a year. Maybe even wall off a section of city too polluted or unpleasant for habitation, and Robert would be your Fathers brother, so to speak. Stick webcams all around and sell the rights, world wide. Think of the advertising revenue. Maybe even run a league. Let Simopn Cowell do a show on it; hey, perhaps call it ‘The Mayhem factor’. Each faction could put up a team, Hamas, IDF, Hezbollah, Orthodox and Armenian denominations, whoever, and the team with the most members still standing after three days wins. Perhaps some form of trophy could be arranged? A years free access for their followers to worship in the dome of the rock or something of that ilk. Televise said fixture and licence William Hill to run a book on the result. At least civilian casualties could be minimised, and since some of the current Palestinian factions seem to have an odd notion of what constitutes ‘fun’ anyway. Unless of course it involves religion and killing. Remember the theme park incident? Family fun is ‘un-Islamic’? WTF?

Apply to any war zone. Agree factions. Seal off limited area, give unlimited ammo, and let the games commence. It might just save the world.

Gravy snobbery

Hereby hangs a tale and a cookery conundrum; how do you make gravy? Traditional rich thick gravy. Not so thick as to stand a spoon up with, but not so runny it’s more like dark water. Simple question isn’t it? Hey, no problem, use the dripping from the meat, a little Bisto and corn starch mixed in cold water and liquor from boiling the spuds for mashing and no problemo, right? Perfect every time.

I happen to like gravy made in this fashion. Great when the dinner choice is traditional English meat veg and potatoes? Just the ticket every once in a while, yeah? Some good old fashioned British style nosh for a change. Gravy made heavy on the onions for serving with Sausage and Mash, or with a pinch of garlic salt to add an edge to chicken or pork. It’s grrr-eat! Or not. However, chacun a son gout. Each to their own, right?

This evening the Sticker household was faced with a dire emergency. A cataclysm threatening to dwarf that bit of inclement weather over the other side of the continent by a factor of 12. No Bisto gravy powder; and I wasn’t going to hike 15km along rainstorm darkened rural Canadian roads to the nearest stockist just for one five dollar packet, or 25km to the nearest stockist of overpriced British products. Think of the carbon footprint dahlings! I thought in my naive optimistic way I’d just fire up the ‘pooter and find a recipe on the jolly old interweb. Job done, brownie points in the offing, another expats hurdle overcome. Yay. Piece of cake. Or not.

Typed the search term “Home made gravy browning” into the mighty Google and was promptly brought up short. Some of the recipes were along the lines of “Roast corn starch in oven for two hours at high heat until dark”, or “Caramelise sugar in an old pan you don’t particularly like, oh, and don’t forget to leave your windows open” which almost made me reconsider cooking roast chicken for Sunday supper. Some of the recipes I came across were far too cumbersome and time consuming. On the cookery forums I also found some snotty types saying that they only cooked ‘Au jus‘. Yes, I really needed to have some sauce snob clogging up the forums when I was trying to find a recipe or some helpful hints. If you don’t know how to make gravy, then what the fuck are you doing telling someone who does want that specifically British sauce about your preference for ‘Au-fucking-jus‘ on a thread asking for recipes? The sheer, looking-down-my-nose-at-you-cos-Delia-don’t-do-it-that-way ignorance of some people, really. Like those sanctimoniously superior people whose response when asked a simple question is to tell you that what you want isn’t what they would do – so you shouldn’t. WTF?

Good gravy, for those of you not initiated into its intricacies, is an art that Michaelangelo would have carved paeans of stone to glorify for eternity, had he not been a renaissance Italian, and therefore ignorant of such a delicacy. Smooth slippery simplicity made wonderfully glutinous and conjured mid to dark brown to accompany Roast Beef, Chicken, Pork, Venison, Lamb, Sausage, Moose, Elk or whatever. It is a particularly English taste, and one I’m proud to cater for, even though it took years for me to perfect my technique. Both stepkids specifically love my Onion gravy, and Youngest has made it known that when she becomes disgustingly rich, she will have me kidnapped and set to work as her personal cook. Or else set up home close by in order to have my small culinary expertise on tap. By such things are the bonds of family strengthened.

Yet this isn’t telling you how I resolved my gravy powder less condition, does it? O-kay. Unfortunately I had cleaned the meat pan after breakfast, and had no cooking grease left. So; I took a rasher of fatty bacon and grilled (broiled) it until there were a couple of teaspoons of bacon fat left in the pan and the rasher was a dried husk of its former self. Then I took a teaspoon of cornflour and mixed it with enough cold water to form a smooth, milky liquor in the sauce boat. Next step was a couple of dashes of Worcestershire Sauce and Soy sauce to darken the cornflour and water mix halfway to the desired state of brown. Next, I stirred in some hot water from cooking the vegetables and, decanting the mix into a small saucepan, let the sauce thicken on a low heat. Potato water is good for this, being slightly starch heavy, but can result in excessive blandness. So I mixed in some liquor from cooking the green vegetables. Finally, I added the bacon fat and seasoned very carefully to taste, stirring constantly to keep the lumps at bay until it had thickened to the desired consistency. The end result was a slightly more aromatic than usual sauce, but was consumed with gusto, and English style (No milk) mashed potatoes, roast chicken and mixed veg. Re-sult!

Some Australian and New Zealand cooks, so I am informed, use half a teaspoon of Vegemite, but I find that gives the end result a slightly odd flavour for my palate. The same for stock cubes. I really don’t like gravy made with stock cubes, I feel they overpower the taste of your dinner, and produce watery gravy anyway. My personal preference is for something with a bit more body, because runny gravy gives me PTSD-like nightmares of school dinners past, from which I sometimes awake sweating and screaming. The trick here is balance. Good gravy should not overpower the roast, like some sauces do. Its purpose is to accentuate, and add a rounded, softer edge, not to swamp. Unless it is particularly good gravy and carries much of the roasts flavour anyway, in which case, mine’s a pint.

Fortunately, Canada is a civilised country and good gravy is generally not hard to come by, even over here on the hippy drippy wet coast. The Quebeckers (bless ’em) even invented Poutine, which is French Fries with lashings of cheese curds and thick gravy. But on the cookery forums, oh my goodness, there’s more controversy over gravy than global warming alarmism, the pro and anti camps are so polarised. For heavens sake it’s just a bloody sauce!

Yet I find in my search for Bisto-less gravy the mirror for much that is wrong in the world. When you go looking for advice, there is too much telling you what you should want, and too little telling you how to do what you want the right way. Sometimes I feel it’s like going into a cigar store and asking for a fine Havana, only to be offered a lecture on the evils of smoking and handed a pamphlet on Cancer awareness with a pack of nicotine flavoured gum. Or, if you like, entering a liquor store and asking for a 15 year old fine Malt Whiskey only to be handed half a pint of Soy Milk and a stern imprecation about the evils of alcoholism. Both of which, if anyone is interested, I would consider a casus belli. There are people in this world who really should know when to butt out. The only problem is that far too many appear entrenched in positions of public trust, snouts firmly wedged in the taxpayer trough, narrow minded eyes on their pet causes and regarding all else as a threat. Perhaps we could do with a cull.

In the meantime, all I have to say to such people is this; you can stop me having gravy with my fortnightly English roast when you can pry the sauce boat out of my cold and dying hands. To me, saying ‘Au Jus’ is the only way is just another way of declaring your culinary incompetence.

A fishermans tale

This is a completely true story. Not terribly dramatic, no-one famous was involved, nothing really happened, but I’ll try to explain my reasons for recounting the incident in question at the end.

In the late 1990’s I was taking a long weekend down in Cornwall. On my own as usual. I’m a solitary individual by nature, and during those years had grown to like long, lazy time outs casting my cares, and the odd line or two, on the waters. As far as human company was concerned, I’d given up on it and immersed myself in my job. That morning I’d picked up a crab line at one of the local beach shops, and taken myself down to a small rocky bay called ‘Prussia Cove‘, one time haunt of the notorious wrecker and pirate, ‘John of Prussia’. It’s a picturesque little place, popular with snorkelers, and of interest for the cart ruts cutting obliquely through rocks from the beach to the little rocky channel to the west. As you face the water, up above on the left are the grey granite Coastguard cottages overlooking the tiny beach. In Summer it’s as pleasant a piece of English Elysium as can be found on a (mostly) sunny day.

On this particular morning, I’d picked myself a spot on the rocks, sat down and waited for a couple in wetsuits to slip into the water before baiting a hook. After a few abortive attempts (standing on the line, throwing too hard, in the wrong direction, getting caught up in seaweed, usual shore fishing mistakes) I cast the weighted orange line some fifty feet or so into the desired middle of the channel. Not really expecting to catch anything. To be honest, at the time I was wrestling with a coding difficulty, and was making the best of this weekend time out for an exercise in contemplation. Taking my mind off the immediate problem, and just letting the light, wind and water work their magic on my hindbrain. Disengaging my mind from its usual over the top frontal assault and trying to slink up on the issue sideways.

“What are you doing?” The voice of a little boy quite startled me. An ordinary looking little lad, about four, maybe six. Slim build, wearing blue (I think) canvas shorts, off white T-shirt, curly dark brown hair forming a sort of mop on his head. Can’t remember what shoes he was wearing. Almost what I’d call the Christopher Robin look. I glanced around, media warped paranoia on overdrive. I’d briefly noticed the same rambunctious little lad annoying his Mother as I made my way down to the waters edge. I think they must have been staying close by. Dark haired woman in sunglasses, mid / early 20’s, lightweight floral dress. Wearing a wide brimmed sun hat as I recall. When she’d been speaking to him earlier I’d registered her accent; educated middle class Surrey. Did I mention I used to pride myself on my ear for English accents? Never mind. Not important.

At the time this whole “All white men are racists, paedo’s and rapists” thing was just beginning to gain ground in the tabloid media, and smelling possible trouble, I tried to brush this intrusive kid off. “Fishing.” I shrugged, reeling the line in. My thinking was to let him get bored and drift away in case Mum came storming over and called the cops. Not that I was doing anything wrong, just fishing. Why couldn’t the little tyke go and amuse himself elsewhere? Leave me in peace? That’s all I wanted.

“Can I have a go? Please?” For a nanosecond I thought about telling him bluntly to go away, but that’s not really my nature. He was being so polite, and Mum was less than a hundred yards away, no doubt keeping a watchful eye on her child, so on the next cast I demonstrated what I was trying to do, reeled in the line and let him try his luck. What can I say? I’m a sucker for lost kittens, puppies and children, and would rather die than see harm come to them. He made a mis-throw, I reeled the line in and let him try again.

For the next half hour, we took turns casting the lead polo mint weighted line out into the little channel, the snorkelers snorkelling in their wetsuits out where the calm waters were ruffled by a light swell, with the peace of a pleasant Cornish Summer late morning wrapping itself around us. Simply revelling in the small pleasure of male company while chilling out on a relatively fruitless task. His Mother seemed quite content to let her little boy please himself around the big stranger fishing at the waters edge.

What happened next made me sit back and think; “Danger! Warning! Warning Will Robinson!” He put his arms around my neck and gave me an unashamed hug, then sat down on our perch overlooking the water and leaned against me, rubbing my back as a kind of ‘thank you’. I clearly remember the rich soft warmth of a child’s physical contact, which gave me quite a jolt. Apart from handshakes, this was the most physical contact I’d experienced from anyone for several years. Did I mention I’m mostly a solitary soul? With a surprised look on my face, I glanced sideways to see his Mother (or female guardian) still sitting calmly in the same place and looking completely unconcerned. I’d shown him how to peel a limpet off a rock for bait, given him a pointer or two on how to cast the line, and received a hug as thanks. Then he used my shoulder as a lever to clamber to his feet and dashed off to tell his mother all about what he’d learned, who neither chided nor chastised her little boy (at least not in my hearing) for approaching (and hugging) a total solitary stranger.

About half an hour later, as the day grew warmer and the beach began to fill, I felt the call of a cold beer and packed up, wandering back to my beat up old Ford Sierra (I was between motorcycles at the time) and moved on. Yet the sudden pleasure of a hug from a completely strange child who I had never met before, never would know the name of, reminded me of my own humanity. My own instinctive need for human company. To ramp down my paranoia. To be part of a family and enjoy the innocent gift of unguarded affection.

This was over fifteen years ago. Since then I’ve married, helped steer two feisty stepdaughters through the uncertain waters of their teenage years, learned to smile and laugh a lot more, become a little more comfortable in my own skin; and somewhere along that path become a better man than I might have been. Not as cold, nor as driven. All because of that one unguarded, unsolicited hug.

So what’s the point Bill? All men are not predatory monsters? That there’s more to the male of the species than his sexual appetites? I suppose so, yes. Thinking about it, that single gesture was key to rediscovering my own understanding of Agape and Eros. Learning to differentiate properly between sacred and profane love. Discovering the love of family. Finding a new centre. Yet what I’d really, truly like to say, in public, is simply this;

Thank you.

Expatriate expostulations from Canada; a.k.a. A Sarcastic man abroad

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