Sunday, December 28, 2008

Reflections (11)

2008 is almost over. I, for one, will be glad to see the back of it.

I'm still living in the same house as my ex; Housing benefits are continuing to give me grief over my claim and haven't paid me anything since October; the kids are still suffering the after effects of the divorce; All the business ideas I try go nowhere; the economy has just gone tits-up.

One platitude that I have taken a particular dislike to over the years is 'it could be worse, you might be starving'. It's usually spouted by those who don't have the particular problems that the sufferer is enduring, or believes that all problems are easy to solve. The worst kind of person to utter this nonsense is the do-gooder who believes that something has to be said to try and cheer the person up.

If you're one of these people who likes to utter this platitude, here's some advice: read the book of Job...the one in the Bible.

Job was not the cause of his problems, but suffered them anyway. A fact that applies to most people's problems today. Then his 'friends' turned up. For several days they kept quiet, just keeping him company. Then they started giving him advice and telling him that he must have done something wrong for all this to happen to him. Ever done that to someone who's suffering misfortune?

I won't spoil the story for you, suffice to say that Job's 'friends' were roundly condemned by God for their arrogance and 'misinterpretation' of the situation.

I have spent most of the year suffering one disaster after another, none of which were my fault. I have caused other problems myself, but not the ones listed above.

Things could be worse. I could be starving, or on the streets, or have no support whatsoever. I could be dead, but I'm not convinced that would be worse for me. It would certainly be worse for the kids, but I'd be at peace.

2009 should be better, but I enter it with trepidation. I cannot see it getting much better at the moment and it could get a lot worse. I'll have to wait and see.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Reflections (10)

Illness still stalks me, though it is fading...but not fast enough.

It's sometimes sobering to realise that less than 100 years ago, the diseases that we treat and cure so easily would have killed people. The cough that I have battled against could well have resulted in my death, as could any number of illnesses that I have had over my life.

In some parts of the world, and even in some parts of Britain and other western nations, these diseases still kill people. Bad housing, bad healthcare, bad diet, can all contribute to early or unnecessary deaths.

We can sit back, look at the statistics and say that things have improved over the last 100 years. Have they?

200 years ago, the diseases that killed the poor would also kill the rich. Money made no difference to whether you survived childbirth or cholera.

Now, if you have money, you can survive most diseases. In the west, more people have sufficient money to pay for treatments or a National system of healthcare, though that is not guarantee.

Is our western wealth blinding us to reality? Is humanity really healthier?

In Africa, AIDS medicine costs too much to be made available generally. In the west we spend millions each year on non-critical plastic surgery.

People are living longer, but is that a real guide to our health? Given that most of the rise in lifespans is due to the lowering of the deathrate amongst the under 5s, I'm not so sure we are healthier or better cared for.

Unless you have lots of money.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Reflections (9)

It's surprising how debilitating a cough is.

As a consequence of my illness, I've been coughing virtually every minute for the last few days. One cough doesn't feel like much of an energy loss and isn't. But every minute of every day wears you out.

A constant tinny noise in the ear of someone with tinnitis; a tiny, nagging pain or headache that just won't go away. These are things that some people live with for their entire lives and cannot just be dismissed as a nuisance. Can we really see through the eyes of someone who suffers these afflictions? Is the reason that so many people want to dismiss these things as small problems that they don't want to have to do something about it?

Just because we can stand things for a moment or two, or even an hour, doesn't mean that we can stand it constantly. To be miserable is a horrible feeling, but one that passes with time. Depression never goes away.

Next time we see someone in constant pain or anguish, even if it is small, let's be more considerate.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Reflections (8)

We rarely see the past with clear eyes. Depending on our mood or outlook, we may see it with a pleasant sepia-tint that hides the harder reality, or we may overstate the horrors. How we look at our past is a reflection of who we are.

More precisely, it is a reflection of who we are at the moment.

As I look back I can see very little but misery. Try as I might, pleasant thoughts don't get a look in. That reflects who I am now.

At other points, I have been able to see and remember happier times and moments.

When I think of the past as miserable, I also see the future in that light.

What I see as I look forward and backwards is a reflection...of who I am now.

Tomorrow is another day.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Reflections (7)

Our world is obsessed with good looks. Those who are perceived as ugly (or old) had better be very talented, or able to fill someone's pockets with money.

It's not just the entertainment industries where this applies either. It also applies in the application of the law and morality. Attractive people are more likely to be found not guilty and we almost fall over ourselves to forgive good-looking people for their 'minor' moral indiscretions.

What kind of world are we building when we judge people mostly on how they look?

You cannot be taken seriously in business unless you wear a suit. Actors and actresses are expected to be good looking, as are singers.

We can point to exceptions, but are they really exceptions, or just less attractive in comparison. Who was the last really ugly actor in films or on TV? Richard Branson may not wear a suit, but he is passably attractive.

Why have we allowed this?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Reflections (6)

Life is full of ups and downs, some of which are extreme.

This year I have been thrust between joy and despair, indifference and hatred. I have had hopes dashed and been lifted by a friendly word.

It has been a year of extremes which I hope I never face again.

The received wisdom is 'that which does not destroy us, makes us stronger'. It's message seems to be that hard times are fine. If we die, then we're not good enough for humanity, if we live, then humanity has been strengthened.

If we are little more than higher animals, then that view is acceptable. If we are, or want to be, more than animals, then we need to leave 'survival of the fittest' behind and help each other to succeed.

Who knows what talents have died at the feet of Darwin?

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Reflections (5)

Whenever you're ill, positive thinking is hard to come by. As I've been (and still am) ill, most of my reflections are negative at the moment.

I did get some good news yesterday. I emailed, as they are looking for freelancers to write for them. The day after, they called, said good, and can I let them have some ideas.

As a writer it's not often you get a positive response, so I'm going to latch onto that and the other positive rejection I've had this week.

In this regard, it seems as though life is picking up, albeit slowly.

The ongoing saga of Housing Benefits has taken another turn. I received another letter detailing my current standing, which also states that a decision has not been made. I was also told that an invoice would be issued for the recovery of the £1300 cheque they issued.

On one hand, they're telling me I owe them a lot, on the other they haven't made any decisions yet.

On reflection, local government has been designed by bureaucrats for bureaucrats, not for people. That's why it fails to deliver.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Reflections (4)

I'm ill again. Stress related no doubt, but it's still very uncomfortable.

When you're ill you find out who your friends are and who really cares about you. My ex-wife has always subscribed to the 'man-flu' theory and thought I was playing it up a lot. Sympathy was in very short supply.

So why did I stay married so long? Partly because of the kids. I was willing to suffer a bad marriage so they could have both parents around until they were in their late teens.

Mostly, it was because that I believed in the sanctity of marriage and that any problems could be fixed if both people were willing to try. It became clear, after a while, that I was the only one willing to change to fix the problems. That left the sanctity of marriage: at least from my side.

I don't regret it, and I would suffer it again for my kids. They're worth fighting for, and suffering for. They are also innocent in all this.


I had a rejection through this morning, the best one I've ever received.

'Although good, I don't feel that the story fits our chosen categories of fiction; strictly, fantasy, horror and science-fiction. I would urge you to submit your piece to a more mainstream magazine, as it would be a shame if this didn't see print.'

Now that's encouraging.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Reflections (3)

I've spent most of my life being lied to, cheated and misused. This year has been no different...with one or two exceptions.

It doesn't help that everything I touch business-wise seems to fail: PC repair,website design, author etc.

I refuse to think that the future will be just as bad. Don't quit, keep on trudging forward, one day at a time, make it through the rain.

At least the sun's out.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Reflections (2)

There's always a light at the end of a tunnel.

I spent most of my youth alone. It was safer than being humiliated for other people's pleasure. After I left school I worked for Barclays bank and, despite some occasional booze filled good times, I left three years one month and eighteen days later.

I then started work in the pub opposite. That was when I started to emerge from my tunnel. Several years later I was in the light, happier than I had ever been and getting married. I entered another tunnel.

I'm now on my way out of this tunnel and there are days when I want to lie down and quit. It soon passes and I carry on.

The past year has been one of emergence. I still have some way to go before I'm truly out of the tunnel, but the light is brighter now and getting closer. So this past year has been better than the ones that went before.

I am walking towards the light.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Reflections (1)

Today is a low point. The sun is out and the rain has finally relented, but I don't feel too good today.

As we enter December and the end of another year approaches, I'm looking back and wondering what has changed for better or worse.

I'm still living in the same house as my ex, though that is compensated for by being around my boys all the time.

Housing benefits seem to be going out of their way to make my life difficult. They've stopped paying me, subject to a review, issued a claim for £5000 for overpaid benefit and issued me with a cheque for £1366 for underpaid benefit.

Some days I get depressed, other days I ignore it. Today I can't ignore it.

The feeling will pass in time and life will carry on. I'll find a way out of this mess and have my life back. It is temporary. But knowing it's temporary doesn't make the pain any easier to bear.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Proud Father

I have three great boys: 14, 13 and 8 years old.

The eldest two are home educated, the youngest attends school. Today, he was playing tag rugby for his school at a tournament in Watford. Despite a couple of injuries (and some dodgy refereeing) he played very well and scored a try.

All three of them are their own people, being who they are, not who someone else thinks they should be. They stand up for themselves and argue their position when they think they're right (which can be difficult for me).

In short, they are proper people, not robots. For that reason, and many others, I am very proud of them.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Melancholy Man

Stop for a moment. Think of your life up to the age of 21. Now remember three moments in which you were really happy. When you've managed it, keep on reading.

How long did it take? A few seconds or longer? When I try this exercise I struggle to get beyond two and that takes me a couple of minutes.

Don't feel sorry for me, or feel that you have to comfort me. Melancholy shaped my early life and has been part of my existence since, but I don't reject it or fight it anymore. I now know who I could have been if misery hadn't changed me. It taught me the value of life and to not judge the experiences of others, or be harsh to them.

I have had happy moments since that time: the births of my children; my wedding day; my baptism; being on stage for the first time; having an article accepted for publication. These events may have occurred after I was 21, but they did occur.

People who have had good, relatively trouble-free lives from birth tend not to appreciate how lucky they have been. They have been:

- born to their parents and not someone else's
- given a random set of genes that have given them their looks and abilities
- given an education that equipped them for the lives they lead etc.

The list can on a long way and will point out plenty of things that they had no control over, but helped them have the life they live now. Would any of them have their current job if a different person interviewed them, or a different person had marked their degree course?

I have my own genes and my own life that was handed to me before I knew that I could make choices. I can do nothing about that, nor was I given the choice before birth of where or when to be born, or to whom. I couldn't choose my genes or the early influences on my life. No one can.

If life is a cloth being woven as we get older, then my cloth will be mostly black, but it will only serve to illuminate the occasional happiness. Not just my own, but the happiness I have brought to others. The smiles when I tell a joke; the relief when I assure them that they are not wrong; the comfort of a hug or a kind word. I have been able to draw on my darkest moments to help people, but only because I have learned from those moments.

Had I been the recipient of some better luck, or been able to take the chances they were occasionally laid before me, I may have ended up an arrogant man, full of my own importance. That may still happen.

I have made the most of the life I've had. I sometimes wish it had been different and spend some time wondering what may have been. But I can't change any of that, nor can I be the person that others wish I was, see in me or want me to be. I am who I am: a melancholy man.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black and White

I like to draw nature. Partly because it's colourful, and I need more colour in my life, but also because I cannot draw animate objects, although I do sometimes try.

The flower on the left is roughly based on a daffodil, but it's design and colouring are my own creation, drawn freehand and 'off the cuff'. I'm proud of it.

Nature is full of shades. How many different greens exist when the sun shines on a leaf? How many whites on a falling snowflake? Is grey a colour of itself, or a shade of black, or of white?

The world around us is full of variation and subtlety. So why do so many people see life in terms of black and white? We have left or right in politics; capitalism or communism in economics; right and wrong in morality.

There are places and instances where there is only one answer, where it is black or white, but those are rarities. Mathematics is right or wrong. 2 + 2 will only ever equal 4, whatever philosophers may sometimes argue.

What of killing? Is it always wrong? Is there such a thing a good murder?

Politicians believe that state ordained killing in the form of war is justified, as do some religions. Assisted death, or Euthanasia is another example where killing can seem to be justified to some people.

Ten years ago I would have said that neither is right, now I'm not so sure. In an ideal world there would be no war, no military forces and no killing in the name of the state, but we don't live in a an ideal world. Ours is an imperfect mix of societies and customs that conflict with each other, conflicts that are heightened by those with a desire to control the lives of others. Should we let those people rule the world in order for there to be no war?

If we can avoid a fight, we should do so, but some people give you no choice but to fight. They will not listen to reason, or accept your point of view. They want you to agree with them, submit to them, or die. Or force you to watch your children die until you submit.

Is killing justified to destroy the violent? Is it a choice between two evils? Those who would say that it is better to submit than kill tend see the world in terms of black and white, right and wrong and have usually never lived under the rule of the violent.

Discussions over Euthanasia follow the same path. It is usually condemned by those who are not in the position of the unfortunate few for whom death is a merciful release. Those who know pain have more sympathy.

The world we live in has shades of colour. Some of those shades lighten our life and bring variety to our existence. We meet and make friends with people who, in terms of personality, are shades of ourselves, but we are forced to live lives that allow only for extremes. Why? Control.

My ex-wife was, and still is, a person of extremes. She would swing from one mood to another, leaving me confused and frustrated, verbally poking me until she got a reaction, then all apologetic when I was angry. Politicians and businesses do the same, swinging us from boom to bust, apologising or blaming when it goes wrong. When the situation has calmed, they start again.

We are led by those who live by the philosophy of 'black and white'; when all we want to do is live in shades.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

And so it begins.....

Blogging, diarying, philosophical musings: is there any difference between the three? It all depends on your view of life, on your nature and how you've been nurtured.

I hope that I've broken with some of my nurturing and adapted some of my nature to the life I live now and the life I want to live.

I've started this blog for three main reasons:
- because I am a writer (yes I have been published and paid)
- because I am at the computer most of the day (writing, creating websites, emailing, researching etc)
- I find it easier to write daily at a computer than by sitting down in my armchair with a pen and a paper.

I keep a diary, albeit irregularly, and I write ideas and notes in a notebook, but I need something else and I need to have it 'out there'.

Although I have had some work published, I, like all writers, find it frustrating to get kicked back time after time. I put effort into something and it gets rejected, usually several times. So this blog is for myself and to fill my need to have something that I have created available for anyone to see and, maybe, appreciate.


Who am I? My name is Martin Willoughby, but that is not who I am: it is the name I am recognised by.

I, am a 45 year old divorcee, father of three boys. I have worked at many jobs and for many companies in my life, none of which I felt any attachment to. I enjoy reading and writing; playing my guitar; drawing nature in pencil, pastels or ink; creating things that last; being with good people; drinking tea; eating curry with naan bread and my fingers; collecting books, DVDs and CDs; playing games; sitting in my armchair and thinking about whatever happens to be on my mind; people saying thankyou.

I, am not loud; aggressive; forceful. I, don't enjoy large crowds; surprise parties; fuss.

That is not ALL that I am, but it does give you a window into who and what I am. Pretentious? Maybe I am. You can pass your own judgement over the weeks, months and (hopefully) years that I write this blog.