May Peace Prevail

A beautiful piece, written in support of Manchester from the other side of the world. As I said in one of my comments, the world seems very small on days like these. I echo the sentiments here; let us come together, stand shoulder to shoulder and together we will beat this!

soulgifts - Telling Tales

The aftermath of the horror  in Manchester has prompted me to  reblog this post I wrote after both the Paris and Orlando bombings. It is still relevant. Just the location and victims have changed. When will it all stop ?

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Now more than ever, it is so important to focus our energies and thoughts on peace.  The tragedy unfolding in Manchester has become the focus of attention for many of us across the world. Social media brings it vividly into our homes. Real horror. It is not some trumped up voyeuristic reality show designed to tease and titillate. It is intolerably sad. There is a huge outpouring of emotions – outrage, anger, hurt, grief, fear.  The world is watching and following.

Let us galvanise the outpouring of emotions into positive action. Not revenge. Not retribution. Not more of the same horror inflicted on others in the belief that the vicious…

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A Thousand Acts Of Kindness

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Yesterday, I wrote about the horrific terrorist attack in my home city of Manchester. It was a somber piece, but one in which I tried to inject a sense of hope and coming together. If your comments are anything to go by, I think that the message somehow got through.

Since Monday, the city and people of Manchester, have – as they always do – gone out of their way to help in any way they can. They have thrown their collective arms around the victims and their families, holding them up and supporting them until they are strong enough to stand on their own. Not just in Manchester, but throughout the whole of the north of England, this is what we do. This is how we survive.

Without a doubt, on Monday we saw the worst of humanity. Yet, even before the dust had settled and the sirens had fallen silent, we were also seeing the best. I know that many of my readers are from the US and elsewhere, and so may not get to hear of the multitudinous acts of kindness, and the overwhelming strength of spirit, shown in the minutes, hours and days after the horrendous act. I wanted, therefore, to put them on record, to show and reinforce the fact that the goodness in people far outweighs the bad.

 

Businesses have been rushing to help. The Eastlands branch of ASDA – one of the UK’s leading supermarkets – filled basket after basket with food and water for hospital staff and volunteers. When workers arrived to collect the goods, managers at the store told them, “We’ve gathered this together, but if there’s anything else you need, just go and take it from the shelves.”

Ordinary families have been delivering home-cooked meals to doctors and nurses, many of whom are pulling double shifts without pay. One surgeon, who was interviewed by a local news team, was having his first proper break since rushing to the hospital on his night off on Monday.

The Sikh and Muslim communities have been setting up street stalls, giving away free food and drink to the police and security personnel protecting Manchester’s streets.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Manchester residents took to social media, using the hashtag #RoomForManchester, each one offering somewhere to sleep for the night, or somewhere safe for those stranded to get their heads together and call home. In typical northern style, one message said “Me and my flatmate, we don’t have much, but we have a spare sofa and the kettle’s on #RoomForManchester”

Taxi drivers too, turned off their meters and ferried people home for free. Ordinary people from as far away as Liverpool (50 km away) and Blackpool (65 km away), came to Manchester, to help give people who found themselves stranded, a lift home. Many of them arrived around midnight and eventually left for home themselves around 5 a.m.

A couple out celebrating their wedding anniversary, rounded up as many children as they could and took them to a nearby hotel, before putting an alert on social media, together with their own phone number, to tell worried parents where they were. The couple stayed with the children throughout the night, fielding calls from anxious families, many of whom heartbreakingly discovered that their children hadn’t survived.

Hospitals and blood banks have been so inundated with volunteers wanting to donate blood, they have had to turn people away! When the people of Manchester have nothing else to give, they literally give of themselves.

All these, and many other acts of selfless kindness, make me so proud of my city. The people have stared into the face of evil and said “Our faces, though tear-stained, will never reflect yours! We have courage, we have spirit, and by God … we have love! We will pick up, dust ourselves off, support those who need it, and carry on. That is what we do.”

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Allow Him No Fame

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No doubt everyone has, by now, seen the reports and horrific images of the terrorist attack in Manchester, UK.

I was born and raised not far from Manchester – indeed, my town falls under the jurisdiction of Greater Manchester – and the solidarity between the citizens, of which the media speaks, is a sight to behold. Yes, we have grown apart in the modern world, often keeping ourselves to ourselves; and yet, somehow, we still manage to keep one eye on each other. This, I believe, stems from the times when people lived back to back, in terraced houses, living their lives virtually in each others’ pockets. Everyone knew everyone else, and everyone looked out for everyone else. You could wander into a neighbour’s house without knocking, and with the old folk sitting outside in summer, or watching from their windows in winter, nothing went unnoticed. Whilst it is not quite like that any more – you cannot just wander into someone’s house without knocking, for example – the sense of community and the willingness to rally round if one of us is hurt or needs help, is certainly still there, and leaves an indelible impression on those who visit.

It broke my heart yesterday, to see the images of families broken, lives torn apart, and youngsters who will remember going to an Ariana Grande concert for the rest of their lives, but for all the wrong reasons. The mother of my best friend was a nurse at Manchester Children’s Hospital, where twelve of the victims are being treated. Last night, she put out an appeal for people with the blood group O Negative, to go to the hospital and donate. I happily shared it.

However, when the news came in about the identity of the attacker, I switched channels. Why? Because he is of no importance. And if I could get one message to the world media regarding this atrocity, it would be this:

When it comes to the coward who carried out this attack, I do not want to know his name. Do not tell me where he was born. Do not tell me where he went to school. Do not tell me where he grew up. Do not tell me about his life. Instead, tell me about the victims, celebrate them, mourn their passing and rage at the injustice of the loss of such young lives. But do not give the coward who took their lives the status that he and his kind crave. Do not give him the recognition. Do not catapult his cause into the light. Allow him to fade into obscurity and become the worthless, nonentity he deserves to be. We, the people of Manchester, will stand forever, shoulder to shoulder, united in our resilience, while he and his murderous kind, individually and alone, crumble to dust.

We are many, but we are one. We come from many different countries and speak many different languages, but today, in one voice, broken but unbowed, we say the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

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The Russian Connection

Most of you who regularly read my blog will have noticed that one thing I tend not to write about, is politics. I have a simple reason for this, and that is that I have long since found that the best way to start an argument with someone, is to embark on a discussion about politics. Therefore, I tend to keep politics at a distance … a couple of miles, say.

That being said, I find that these days, I cannot avoid politics. It’s everywhere! Whether it’s the upcoming General Election farce in the UK or the Trump debacle in the US, I cannot turn on my TV without being bombarded with political messages and imagery.

Admittedly, however, I have found myself being somewhat transfixed with the whole Trump-Russia connection, a story which seems to be nothing if not self-propagating. Day after day, even hour upon hour, like some politicised Frankenstein’s monster, the issue surrounding whether the President of the United States colluded with the Russian government in order to get himself elected, as well as the connections amongst his staff, gets bigger and stronger. I am not a US citizen, and so I am watching all this unfold from a distance, flicking between such media outlets as CNN, Sky News, BBC, ABC, the Flemish press, Dutch press, to name but a few.

Now, I am certainly not a politics expert, and so it’s difficult for me to say whether there are any ties between the US and Russian governments. I mean, apart from the Michael Flynn thing … and the Paul Manafort thing … and the Tillerson thing … and the Sessions thing … and the Kushner thing … and the Carter Page thing … and the Roger Stone thing … and the Felix Sater thing … and the Boris Ephsteyn thing … and the Rosneft thing … and the Gazprom thing … and the Sergey Gorkov banker thing … and the Azerbaijan thing … and the “I love Putin” thing … and the Donald Trump, Jr. thing … and the Sergey Kislyak thing … and the Russian Affiliated Interests thing … and the Russian Business Interests thing … and the Emoluments Clause thing … and the Alex Schnaider thing … and the hack of the DNC thing … and the Guccifer 2.0 thing … and the Mike Pence “I don’t know anything” thing … and the Russians mysteriously dying thing … and Trump’s public request to Russia to hack Hillary’s email thing … and the Trump house sale for $100 million at the bottom of the housing bust to the Russian fertilizer king thing … and the Russian fertilizer king’s plane showing up in Concord, NC during Trump rally campaign thing … and the Nunes sudden flight to the White House in the night thing … and the Nunes personal investments in the Russian winery thing … and the Cyprus bank thing … and Trump not releasing his tax returns thing … and the Republican Party’s rejection of an amendment to require Trump to show his taxes thing … and the election hacking thing … and the GOP platform change to the Ukraine thing … and the Steele Dossier thing … and the Leninist Bannon thing … and the Sally Yates can’t testify thing … and the intelligence community’s investigative reports thing … and the Trump reassurance that the Russian connection is all “fake news” thing
and the Spicer’s Russian Dressing “nothing’s wrong” thing … and the Chaffetz not willing to start an investigation thing … and the Chaffetz suddenly deciding to go back to private life in the middle of an investigation thing … and the The Lead DOJ Investigator Mary McCord SUDDENLY in the middle of the investigation deciding to resign thing … and the appointment of Pam Bondi who was bribed by Trump in the Trump university scandal appointed to head the investigation thing … and the The White House going into full-on cover-up mode, refusing to turn over the documents related to the hiring and subsequent firing of Flynn thing … and the Chaffetz and White House blaming the poor vetting of Flynn on Obama thing … and the Poland and British intelligence gave information regarding the hacking back in 2015 to Paul Ryan and he didn’t do anything thing … and the Agent M16 following the money thing … and the Trump team KNOWING about Flynn’s involvement but hired him anyway thing … and The Corey Lewendowski thing … and the Preet Bharara firing thing but before he left he transferred evidence against Trump to a state level Schneiderman thing … and the Betsy Devos’ Brother thing … and the Sebastian Gorka thing … and the Greg Gianforte from Montana thing … and the Pence actually was warned about Flynn before he was hired thing … and the Pence and Manafort connection thing … and the 7 Allies coming forward with audio of Trump’s associates in an incidental wire tapping thing … and the Carter Page defying the Senate’s order to hand over his Russian contact list … and the Trump wants to VETO Sally Yates’ testimony thing … and the Trump trying to discredit Yates thing … and the Obama told Trump personally about Flynn thing … and the COMEY thing … and the meeting with Russian foreign minister upon the order of Putin thing … and the sharing of highly classified top secret information to Russian Foreign minister thing … and the invitation and hosting of Turkey’s dictator thing … I can’t see that there’s anything in it.

Or am I missing something?

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Sweet Child Of Mine: A Short Tale Of Horror

Just as I did every night, I climbed the stairs of my home and made my way across the landing to my little girl’s room. It was 8 o’clock, and I hadn’t tucked her in yet, or read her a bedtime story. I entered the room to find her hidden under the duvet, and, by the tremulous way it moved, I could see she was shaking.

“Sweetheart, whatever is the matter?” I asked.

She slowly pulled the duvet from over her head to expose her tear-stained face.

“There’s someone under my bed” she said, her voice barely a whisper.

I smiled and stroked her hair.

“Don’t be silly, sweetie. There’s no one under your bed. Look, I’ll prove it.”

Kneeling down on the floor, I looked under the bed. There, looking straight back at me was my sweet little girl, eyes wide, tears running silently down her cheeks. With a trembling finger, she pointed upwards.

“Mummy,” she whispered, “there’s someone in my bed.”

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Kindness Is Magic

 

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Recently, I saw this art installation in a local second-hand shop here in the village. Admittedly, at first I thought “What on earth is that?”, yet the more I looked, the more intrigued I became. When I read the description of the piece, however, and what the artist was trying to depict, I looked at it with different eyes. I now saw it as one of the saddest things I have ever seen. The card read: “Closing Time” This piece represents the figure you often see in a bar, the one with their head on the table. They’ve been there so long they’ve become invisible and the barman has closed the bar around them. They are trapped, not in a closed bar, but in a spiderweb of loneliness.

It made me think, think about those times of casual carelessness of which we are all guilty, when we look but don’t see, when we hear but don’t listen. We see someone staring into middle distance and pass them by, even when we see they are still there, in the same position, a little while later. Or the elderly neighbour that you haven’t seen in a couple of days. Should I knock on the door? No. How will that make it better? They’ll only think I’m interfering.

The truth is that some of the most powerful words in the English language are “Are you OK?” Those three little, inconsequential words can, when put together, literally save a life.

Take, for example, the case of 16-year-old Dublin teenage, Jamie Harrington. Two years ago, he was on his way to an American sweet shop in Dublin, when he saw a man sitting on the ledge of a bridge. Jamie said, .” I stopped and asked him if he was okay, but I knew from the look in his eyes he wasn’t, and he didn’t say anything either, but I saw tears coming from his eyes. I pleaded with him for a while to come down and sit on the steps, and eventually he did. We sat on the sidewalk on the south side of the Liffey and talked for about 45 minutes, about what was happening to him, why was he feeling that way… I couldn’t leave him there alone, but I had to go, so I was going to ring an ambulance. I told him they could help him feel better. But he was like “please, please don’t call them, I’m fine, I just want to walk around for a while, I’m gonna be okay!” I told him to please let me ring an ambulance, that I wouldn’t sleep knowing he was just walking around alone. So I rang it, and he was taken to St. James Hospital. I got his number so I would know what was going on with him for a good while… And about three months ago, he texted me that his wife is pregnant, they’re having a boy, and they’re naming him after me. Can you believe that? They’re going to name their child after me… He said in that moment that I approached him, he was just about to jump, and those few words saved his life. That they’re still ringing in his head every day. “Are you okay?” I can’t really understand how these few words could save his life, but he told me, “Imagine if nobody ever asked you those words…” “

Take too, the incident of four policemen in Rome, Italy, who were called because neighbours overheard an elderly couple crying in their apartment. When the policemen arrived, 84-year-old Jole and her 94-year-old husband, Michele, told them that no one had visited them in months and that after watching TV, they were not only lonely, but desperately saddened by the state of the world. Rather than simply leaving, the policemen tried to offer them comfort in the only way they knew how: by cooking them a dinner of spaghetti with parmesan. The policemen, Andrea, Alessandro, Ernesto and Mirko, said “It is not always an easy life. Especially when the city is empty and the neighbours are away on vacation. Sometimes the loneliness melts into tears. Sometimes it’s like a summer storm. It comes suddenly and overtakes one” 

But what if someone is behaving violently, or erratically? What do you do then? Well, if you are an elderly lady on the Vancouver Sky Train, you offer your hand in support. Mr. Taha, a fellow passenger on the train gave an account of what happened. He said, “I saw the most incredible display of humanity on the sky train. A six foot five man suffering from drug abuse and\or mental health issues was being very aggressive on the bus with erratic movements, cursing, shouting, etc. While everyone was scared, this one seventy year old woman reached out her hand, tightly gripping his hand until he calmed down, sat down silently, with eventual tears in his eyes. I spoke to the woman after this incident and she simply said, “I’m a mother and he needed someone to touch.” And she started to cry. Don’t fear or judge the stranger on the bus: life does not provide equal welfare for all its residents” 

With one in four of us likely to experience some form of mental health issue in our lives, wouldn’t we want someone to reach out their hand, cook us a meal, or simply ask us if we are OK? If someone is physically sick, people are on hand to offer support and comfort in order to make them better. Yet, when it comes to be mentally unwell, people shy away, unsure of what to do, or unwilling to get involved. It is at the times when people are at their most vulnerable that they are most in need of kindness.

How we treat the weak, the vulnerable, and seemingly insignificant members of our society is what defines us. I for one would like to be defined by being kind. For as these examples show, kindness is magic.

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The Funniest Story I’ve Ever Heard!

As a writer, I always carry a little notebook around with me, where I can jot down snippets of overheard conversations, or jokes, or any pieces of information that I think might be useful in a story at some point. This following tale, however, was told to me by a friend of a friend one night, after we’d all had a few drinks. It is one of the funniest stories I have ever heard, bar none! I have changed the name of the protagonist and his girlfriend to save their blushes. Other than that though, every word of it is true and as it was told to me. 

“A few years ago, I was dating this girl called Emma. Her parents hated me. Especially her mother. Christ! That woman loathed me with a passion! She even went so far as to say that if she ever caught me with so much as a toe inside her house, she’d happily throttle me where I stood and claim provocation in court!
“Well, in light of what she said, I thought it best if me and Emma started seeing each other on the quiet, and well away from her place. At first Emma said that she didn’t care what her Mum said. I was her boyfriend and if her Mum didn’t like that, well then, she’d just have to grow up and get used to it. I wasn’t having any of it though. I certainly didn’t fancy taking my chances with some psycho-throttling-mother-from-hell. Anyway, I managed to talk some sense into her, and we decided that we’d see each other on the sly, just for a little while, and then if things started to get more serious between us, well, then I’d have to have a chat with her mum…from a safe distance of course…a couple of hundred miles, say.
“Anyway, we’d been seeing each other as much as we could, ducking and diving here and there and generally keeping as far away from her Mum’s meaty-throttlers (I laughed my ass clean off the back of my legs at that phrase!) as we could, when Emma came to me with some news. She said that her parents were going away to Paris that weekend and so seeing as how she’d have the house all to herself, she thought that maybe we could spend the weekend together at her place. She said she’d asked her Mum to let her know when they got to Paris, so she knew they’d got there safely. Then, once she knew they were there, she’d text me and tell me to come over.
“So the day finally dawns, and about around two in the afternoon I got a text from Emma to say that her Mum and Dad were safely in Paris and that I was to come over. Now, she lived about a half hour walk from me, but no word of a lie, I was there in ten minutes. We practically fell on each other as soon as she answered the door and, being the horny beast that I am, we had sex right there in the hall. Well, after the hallway we did it in the kitchen and the bathroom. Emma wanted to do it in the conservatory but I appealed to her mercy to let me recover a little and so we ended up cuddling up on the sofa.
We spent a lovely day together. About 8 in the evening, we sent out for pizza and watched The X Factor. We had a shower together and had sex in the shower, and then when it got to about 11 o’clock, I suggested that it might be best if I went home.
“Why?” she said, “My Mum and Dad are miles away in Paris. I mean, I know my Mum’s got 20/20 vision, but I doubt even she can see that far” I said that I was just nervous that they might come back early or something, but Emma assured me that that wouldn’t happen.
Well, Emma had already told me that I’d have to sleep on a camp bed in her room, because there wasn’t enough space for two in her single bed. I thought about mooting the idea of sleeping in her Mum and Dad’s bed, but since she hadn’t mentioned it, I thought it best not to. I’m guessing it was about two in the morning when we finally went to bed. We had a cuddle on her bed first and then I got onto the camp bed and we both fell asleep. Next morning, I woke up with a massive hard on. I mean, I’m talking full blanket tent pole…”
At this point, I questioned whether I actually needed to hear this bit, but, he assured me it was important, so I let him continue.
“So, I’ve got this hard on,” Danny continued, “and of course, needing to do something about it, I gently woke Emma up. I had no idea that women can be just as horny as us fellas first thing in the morning, and as soon as she saw my bed tent, she was on me like some kind of ravenous vampire. We really went at it. First she was on top and then we switched so I was on top of her. We were really going for it!”
“I’m sensing a but,” I said, “if you’ll pardon the pun”
“There isn’t a but,” said Danny, “There is an “and then” though.
“Go on”
“And then the bed collapsed”
I have to admit, I was expecting a little more than that, and I told him so. However, when he said “the bed collapsed and because I was bracing myself with my hands on the floor, it trapped my hands underneath it. I couldn’t bloody move!” I damned near choked on my drink!
“Oh my god!” I gasped, practically choking.
“So, there I am, on top of Emma, both of us stark-bollock naked and me with my hands trapped underneath the camp bed. With both our weights on it, there was no way I could get myself free. Emma was telling me to lift up and I was telling her that if I could lift up, I would have done so by now. Honestly, as time went on I started having visions of the police searching the house and finding just our skeletons, still trapped in the same position”
“So what happened?” I asked. “I mean, how did you get free?”
“Her Mum and Dad came home”
“You’re kidding?”
“I wish to god I was! I’d just asked Emma if there was any way she could slide out from under me when we heard the front door open and then heard her Mum and Dad. “Only us, love” her Mum shouted. “I know we’re home early but we basically got there and came straight back. Paris isn’t as romantic as everyone makes out. It’s really a…”
“Shithole” her Dad said.
“Language, Arthur!” said her Mum.
Both our hearts are going ten to the dozen and I’m pinning all my hopes on Emma being able to wriggle out from underneath me, lift up the bed just enough for me to get my hands out, and then I can quickly hide in the wardrobe and she can jump into bed and pretend to be asleep. As it turned out we didn’t have time for any of that. Her Mum came up the stairs, poked her head around the door, saw my hairy arse pointing straight at her and screamed. Her Dad must have thought there was a burglar or something, because he came bursting in with a hammer in his hand and I’m convinced he’d have done me a mischief if Emma hadn’t poked her head out from under me and said “Hiya. You’ve…er… met Danny haven’t you?”
By this point, all hope was lost for me and I found myself as a teary, giggling mess on the floor. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t stop laughing; in fact, the harder I tried, the funnier it got. Eventually, I somehow must have managed to stammer something along the lines of “Then what happened?” because Danny said “Well, her Dad managed to lift the bed a bit so I could get my hands out and I stood up, making sure to cover my essentials with my hands of course. Mind you, I didn’t really help myself there because ended up moving my hands away to offer a hello to her Mum. I’m telling you, the look on that woman’s face was enough to strike the fear of god into anyone. I swear, if I’d been alone with her I’d be a eunuch”

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Stumbling Across A Blog

One of the things I love about blogging is not so much the notion of putting my own thoughts, feelings, fears and ideas out there into the ether, where, it is hoped, they will be loved and accepted by all who come across them, but rather the fact that, at any moment, I could stumble across a blog which really captures my imagination. Recently, I had just such an experience, when I happened upon the travel blog of Rona Lee Cunliffe.

Entitled Travels With Rona, the blog documents Rona’s travels, which so far seem to be confined to Italy, although she does say that she has visited many different countries. What I like about her blog though, is not so much the places she has visited (although they are all quite beautiful), but the writing. Most travel writing I have read is rather perfunctory, to the point. Rona writes as a writer, and as a writer myself, I find that enthralling. There is not only freedom and fluency in her work, but also control, a sense of knowing what to put in, and more importantly, what to leave out. Hyperbole is a stranger here.

I won’t waffle on any more though. I hate it when people critique my work, whether it be good or bad (I suppose I’m in the wrong profession then, eh?), and so I shall do a fellow writer the courtesy of not critiquing their work. Nevertheless, if you have a little time, I can highly recommend “Travels With Rona”, if only for a little escapism. And on a dreary, rainy Belgian Tuesday, I need a heavy dose of that!

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