Conquest, War, Famine and Death, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, played conkers at the school gates while waiting for their Mummy to collect them. It was 4:05 pm and she was late.
Conquest and War played on happily but Famine was fidgety. “Mummy is never late to pick us up,” he thought. Conquest knocked War’s last conker off it's string so he was the winner and full of smiles. War brooded, sparks crackling at his fingertips.
The dark riders began to notice that all of the other kids had gone and they were all alone by the open gate. It was 4:20, Mummy was very late indeed, and it started to rain.
Death rocked on his heels and said, “Why don’t we ride home ourselves? It’s not too far. We can go through the woods on the way and play Armageddon.”
Famine said, “Mummy will be coming in a minute. You know we aren’t allowed to go home alone and we aren’t allowed in the Bogey Man woods without Father.”
Death laughed, “You little sissy, we’re going home. You wait here in the rain and tell Mummy we’ll be back in time for dinner.” Death, Conquest and War rode off on their wooden horses. Famine looked up the road for his Mummy, down the street at his brothers disappearing into the forest, bit his lip then called after them, "Wait for me!"
Mrs Apocalypse pulled over and got out of the car. "Oh bother," she said. As she looked at the flat tire and wondered if she could fix it by herself, she worried about her boys.
Famine got on his horse and galloped into the woods, but there was no sign of Conquest, War and Death. "Come on you guys!" he shouted, but there was no reply, only the drumbeat patter of the rain on the leaves and the slowing crunchy footfalls as he came to a trot. He rode into a clearing full of bluebells but he reared up in terror when he saw it...Death's horse lying on the ground with a snapped neck.
"Oh Mummy," thought Famine.
Official Ninja Ultimate Power
Coñazo is totally flipped out and pumped up by the Official Ninja Homepage
Queen's Day Photo
An amusing photo
of the author with Tall Josephine
, and Andy, resplendent in orange.
A World of Wonder and Doubt
is qualified physician who became a best selling author and new age guru. His books sell millions, his lectures attract thousands and he has a line of merchandise from spiritual jewellery to ayurvedic jam.
I joined two thousand people who each paid up to 150 euros to spend a day with Dr. Chopra in Kensington Town Hall, London on the 8th of May. As we sat waiting in the great hall there was a church-like atmosphere – murmured conversations and squeaking chairs that became a profound hush as Dr. Chopra took to the stage. Two thousand minds switched to ‘receive’ mode, mine included.
Deepak Chopra is a tremendously charismatic figure with handsome sculpted features and an easy going, humorous manner. Wearing a black suit that seemed to emphasise rather than conceal a Buddha-like mid-drift, he strode unselfconsciously around the stage and easily worked around various problems with his audio-visual equipment that might have interrupted the flow of a less assured performer.
Everyday concerns are held in their proper perspective for Dr. Chopra. He believes that the capricious rational brain is not to be fully trusted. Thoughts come and go but he is more interested in deeper levels of understanding. The rational brain is a recent arrival on the scene, evolving only a few tens of thousands of years ago. It can be a petulant, demanding adolescent. Underneath lies the much older limbic brain
which is the seat of our emotions. Deeper still is the ancient reptilian brain, the 300 million year old structure that controls our heartbeat and breathing. But the mind goes much further. Dr. Chopra says that the whole body contributes to our consciousness. And further down the rabbit hole we go, for it is not the physical body that contains the mind, but the soul that creates the body, and everything else that we perceive as concrete reality.
To Dr. Chopra, we are expressions of eternal souls that construct the physical world by the act of observing it. This assertion is supported by results from mainstream physics. As every schoolchild may or may not know, the quantum probability wave
only collapses when it is observed – until that point, it exists in a state between ‘might be’, and ‘might not be’. Without any observers, the universe would be a quantum mechanical soup with no definite form, so it is we who create the universe by interacting with it. It is a short jump for Dr. Chopra to take this accepted fact at the quantum level and apply it to our macroscopic existence. It is another short jump in his reasoning to suppose that if we really do construct the universe, then it must be in our power to change the future through the action of our souls. The soul is the great organising power in the universe. If the soul intends something to happen, then it has the power to re-organise the quantum mechanical soup to make it happen. So, here we have an explanation for the power of prayer.
I found out later that some of the audience were impressed by the appeal to physics and others were turned off by it. Some thought it imbued the teachings with a degree of scientific credibility, while for others any link with, or dependence on science is redundant in the spiritual realm.
It has always been so that philosophers and mystics have based their world view on prevailing scientific paradigms. Newton’s laws of motion gave us the clockwork universe of determinism – everything can be worked out exactly from initial conditions and fixed laws. Einstein’s theories of relativity overcame the classical view and suddenly there was no firm ground – everything was relative, so a text meant what a reader thought it did irrespective of the author’s intention, and right and wrong were cultural constructs rather than objective realities. The counter-intuitive results of quantum mechanics do contain ideas that to some people might admit the possibility of changing the world just by thinking about it, and Chaos
theory could be interpreted such that if a butterfly’s wing beat can cause a storm in the Atlantic, then perhaps a thimble-full of faith can move a mountain. We know that scientific paradigms and theories change over time so it is worth reminding ourselves not to place too great reliance on them in areas two or three times removed from their origin. Dr. Chopra’s validation of ancient spiritual wisdom through modern physics is a powerful message to the modern mind, but as he says, it is best not to place too great a reliance on the rational brain.
It was to escape the comings and goings of the rational brain that Dr. Chopra guided the audience through meditation. We were instructed to sit comfortably with our feet planted and our backs straight against the chair.
My hands lay open on my lap and I repeated the mantra, "So Hum". The idea is that the meaningless mantra crowds out the babbling stream of consciousness. If thoughts come up, return to the mantra. The mantra interferes with thought, thought interferes with the mantra and at a certain point they cancel each other out. More science. This point is when you fall through the 'gap' and are in direct contact with your eternal soul. You stop the mantra and bring your attention into your body, imagining that it is a pulsing field of consciousness, bubbling with bliss. I may have been imagining it, but I did notice flashes of light with my eyes closed at this point and half fancied that I was seeing other people in the audience reaching this 'light body' stage. Something seemed to be interfering with my scepticism at that point.
Coming out of a meditative state, one does have a feeling of well-being and lightness. I was grateful for that feeling as we broke for lunch. During the break, I got a chance to observe the audience in more detail as I ate my vegetarian Indian meal. There were glamorous Kensington women and affluent retirees but the majority seemed to be professional thirtysomethings just like me. Interestingly, there were no hippy types. There are champagne socialists who are despised by the dyed in the wool activists. Perhaps we were the champagne spiritualists who are frowned upon by they true hippy. Certainly Dr. Chopra has done anything but renounce his worldly treasure.
We started late after lunch because the book signing took longer than planned. The afternoon focused on the practice of healing – physical, emotional and spiritual. Dr. Chopra has some natty dietary advice, saying that we should eat food with each colour of the rainbow each day. I was wondering if M&Ms counted towards that, but I didn’t ask the question.
Bringing us back into a meditative state, Dr. Chopra asked us to bring our attention to each of our Chakras
, which are seven centres of energy running from the tail bone to the top of the skull. Each of the Chakras has a different aspect, for example the first is associated with innocent, child-like joy and they have a different resonating colour. They can be stimulated by directing distinctive sounds to each of them while meditating. We went through this process together, chanting the sounds to activate the energies in each Chakra. I thought that the sound associated with the third eye (middle of the forehead) was most relevant. The sound is a deep and resonant “Sham”.
When you hear a lot of common sense advice mixed up in an elaborate spiritual system, what are you to do? There is wisdom in taking the parts that make sense and ditching the rest. A lot of the advice from Dr. Chopra does have merit and he presented it in a charming way, but it was not clear to me how much he expects you to buy into the whole integrated philosophy. An example of his charm and wit:
“Think of a time when you were upset by something in the past week. If you can’t think of something in the past week, think of something in the past month. If not in the past month, then the past six months. If not in the past six months, please come up and give the rest of the lecture.”
Now after this he took us once more into a meditative state and once we were in the ‘light being’ stage asked us to re-live the time we were upset and find out where we could feel it in our bodies. I did sense a heavy feeling in the chest, in the heart. He asked us to name the feeling. I called mine, ‘hopelessness’. He asked the audience to report their results and got such answers as, “hate in the hands, ” and, “frustration in the gut,” and, “helplessness in the solar plexus.” This was what he wanted to hear to make his point, but I for one was still gasping with this feeling in my chest that he gave us no instructions how to clear. He moved on to the next subject leaving two thousand people with pent up negative emotion in different body parts.
My heart attack was probably averted by his jokes about George W. Bush, who he seems to have some doubts about, although I cannot imagine why. In a great demonstration of insight, he asked us to write down four characteristics of someone we are really attracted to, and do the same thing for someone who we find repellent. Dr. Chopra says that the result is a description of yourself, because anyone we feel emotion about – either good or bad – tells us something about what we want to become, or something about what we deny in ourselves. Now, write down four characteristics of George W. Bush.
Dr. Chopra’s humorous and scientific sides came together in his story of the woman in New York who has a psychic African Parrot. There is a respected British scientist
who has studied connections between pets and ‘human companions’ (it is not PC to say ‘owner’ anymore). There are dogs that go to the phone just before the human companion rings, and there is a parrot in New York that makes relevant comments about photographs that the owner (OK to use in case of parrots
) is looking at in a different room. To Dr. Chopra this is proof of quantum mechanical action at a distance, proof of the bond created by love and proof that we are right to wonder.
After the lecture a few of us went to Starbucks to talk about it over Chai Latte's. I asked whether anybody was concerned about the motivation of Dr. Chopra, whether he was nothing more than a modern day medicine man selling panaceas for the modern condition and in it just for the money. That suggestion was met with considered frowns and furrowed brows. To the others, the fact that people have paid money is a sign of their dedication to change themselves and improve, and besides, Dr. Chopra does a lot of pro bono work on the side.
I was worried about equating monetary contribution with commitment. Surely the person who attends church every week and puts their last pound in the collection plate is just as committed to their spiritual well-being as the Kensington socialite who pays 150 euros to listen to Deepak Chopra?
There is surely an analogy to the consulting industry. Companies pay millions of pounds to consultants to come up with ways to improve their businesses. These consultants ask the current employees what should be done. They put this into a report and the management take the recommendations seriously. Why could they not have listened to their own staff in the first place? They had to pay the millions to give credence to the advice that they could have had for free by listening to their own people. In the same way, it seems to me that much of the sound advice given by Deepak Chopra could be given by a friend, but it seems easier to act on the advice if you have sacrificed something to receive it. If we could be open to each other in daily life, we might not need Dr. Deepak Chopra - or consultants.
But then again, perhaps the world is a brighter place with people like Deepak Chopra in it (I don’t say the same thing for consultants). To many, he does bring a message of hope, and some clues about how to improve their lives. He concluded his lecture in this way. He looks at today's world full of terrorism and violence and thinks of the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into butterfly. The caterpillar has cells called 'imaginals
' that contain the genes for butterfly wings. In the cocoon, the caterpillar's body begins to attack itself and break down, and the imaginals start to multiply and connect. They feed on the rotting corpse of the caterpillar. In the same way, Dr. Chopra sees his followers - and those similarly inclined - as the imaginals in the world who will build something more beautiful from the rotten world we live in. That was a nice piece of imagery that I think came from the heart.
Gods and Monsters
I had to get out of the house after dinner so I pulled on a hooded black top, zipped my fleece over it, put on my sunglasses and skedaddled. The sun was going down so I’m sliced at an angle by the long shadows as I walk down the long straight road that goes by side of the Amstel river all the way to the middle of Amsterdam. I seek peace.
I seek peace because I realise that I can sit down anywhere at anytime and explore the black pool that contains all my daemons until I want to cry. The black pool must be bottomless and in all the time I have spent there I have never found one of the sides, either. I don’t need to be out walking to be in the black pool so I decide to seek tranquility. Standing by the pool with the sun on my back would make me feel like a god, so I look for that as I walk along with my hood up and my sunglasses on in the growing dim.
I go past the Amstel Hotel which is the fanciest in town. There is a small crowd outside hoping for a glance of Brad Pitt or George Clooney, who are in town filming ‘Oceans 12’. I walk on and cross the street and I come across another crowd of people outside the Carre theatre. Everyone is waving Dutch flags, which is a sure fire sign that the Queen of Holland is about somewhere. I pass a sorry looking line of Dutch soldiers. The Dutch army has been a joke since time immemorial. This slovenly lot in unpressed combat gear – not dress uniform - are a disgrace to look at.
I find a spot further up from the theatre where I see they have built a huge floating stage in the middle of the Amstel river. An orchestra tunes up. I’ve got this spot where I can look to my right to see the stage, and look down the street ahead of me to the theatre past all the excited crowd. People start to come out of the theatre and walk along a protected walkway to seats in front of the stage in the river. They have to go right past me. I can see these are the Dutch elite by their tans, their clothes and their mis-shapen heads. The herds of ordinary citizens are beaming at them as they amble by ever so elegantly.
The comedy soldiers are called to attention, which they come to each in his own good time. Then out steps good old Queen Beatrice to walk the 500 metres to the middle of the river. The herd are pumping out megawatts of pride and smiling at their queen. She walks past me five paces away, with her helmet-like hair and indefatigable air. All the hulabaloo goes on until she has her head of stately arse into her commodius chair and the orchestra gets the chance to do its state sponsored thing.
The sound that comes from them is a cacophanous mess of Shostakovich, or it might be an Atomic Kitten remix, the acoustics are so bad. I still have no idea what we are celebrating so I ask someone and he tells me it is liberation day. I suddenly need a drink. Before the war, Winston Churchill told the Dutch Prime Minister of the threat of Nazi invasion. The Dutch told Churchill that there was nothing to fear – they had prepared impregnable innundation defences. At the twist of a few stop cocks, swaythes of countryside would be impassable to the German blitzkrieg. The German paratroopers landed behind Dutch lines and took over the stop cocks. The Nazi’s bombed Rotterdam to a pulp and threatened to do the same to Amsterdam unless Holland capitulated, which it did three minutes later. The Dutch resistance did fight bravely during the war, but watching the smug Dutch elite gather together to celebrate the liberation really makes me thirst for a stiff drink.
I walk on past the VIP section and take a left across the bridge over the river. There are thousands of people waving their flags. I see that they are not your common or garden grazing herd of downtrodden citizenry. This is Dutch society out in force. This lot are here for the royal power by association, and for the classical music. There’s a concert of pop and dance at the Museumplien for the hoi polloi. I walk through the women with their Louis Vutton bags and the corpulescent men with their silk scarves and cigars. I will never be accepted by this group which is partly because I will never accept this group. It’s not to do with their petit bourgeous status – I feel the same way about the great unwashed at the dance event. I am the Quintessentially Modern Misanthrope.
I’m on the other side of the river now and walking back towards home. I fight the urge to topple people lining the river into an early bath. With the whole sorry scene receding, I cross the river at a whim further up and pass by the Amstel Hotel again. The crowd is much bigger now and there is a sense that something is about to happen. An all-american smile-omaton with a walkie talkie is talking to some policewomen on horses. Or he might be talking to the horses. A limo pulls round the corner and parks outside the hotel. Out steps Brad Pitt. He turns and smiles to the crowd for a second then turns and takes the steps two at a time.
The crowd disperse and the horses head home for warm milk and cocoa, the policewomen for carrots and hay. For a moment I’m full of reflected star power and I feel great. Celebrities are gods. I am glad that the human race has not developed any form of group mind because I don’t want to have any inkling about how good it must be to be the Brad Pitt humanoid unit. Ignorance is bliss.
I walk back home along the Amstel behind a girl with pig tails who is wearing a fluffly bunny rucksack and keeps stopping every once in a while to look at the stars, then walks really fast to get past me again. I’m in the black pool again. In fact, I am the black pool.
Tomorrow I am having my wisdom teeth taken out. I’m looking forward to it.
What I'm Reading
1). "Illium" - Dan Simmons. If you liked Phillip Pullman's re-telling of Paradise Lost, then you might be tickled by Simmons' sci-fi version of "The Illiad" and "The Tempest" mixed together. Inspired by these works, I am working on a novel set in the far future based on "Canterbury Tales" by Chaucer, Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason" and "Beckham: The Unauthorised Biography".
2). "The Social Contract" - Jean-Jacques Rousseau (or was it Jacques Cousteau?). "Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains." This is the first line of a treatise on the relationship between the individual and the state, and not just the slogan of a bondage outlet - who knew?
3). "My Name is Asher Lev" - Chaim Potok. Looks like a pot-boiler, but it bids me read it.
4). "The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success" - Deepak Chopra. I shall be listening to the great man himself on Saturday in London.
The following article is the unremarkable story of a perfectly normal haircut. It was written for the author's own bewilderment and is not safe for public consumption. Reading this story will cause gagging and feelings of hopelessness and depression. The author recommends that instead of reading the story, you book a photo session with an unfeasibly tall woman, here.
Anatomy of a Haircut
The thought that ‘this is costing me 50 bucks’
had me musing on the origins of hairdressing - the oldest profession – as I sat waiting for Marcello to finish with his other client.
Our prehistoric ancestors hunted wooly mammoths with clubs and lived in caves warmed by man’s red fire. The flames cast eerie shadows over rugged walls and stirred the primordial imagination. Early man took embers from the fire and drew phantom images from his nascent dreams on the walls. These scrawls became elablorate representations of hunting scenes and stylised portraits of tribal members. Man’s highly idealised cave paintings created an image of beauty unreachable to most hairy neanderthal women, leading to low self esteem and poor body image.
Then one day, Ug was picking grubs from Ng’s scalp, idly putting them in her mouth, when she noticed that if Ng’s fringe was swept just so
, then her protruding brow would be de-emphasised and her whole face would take on a jaunty, carefree air. That was the historical moment that nit picking became something else: hair-styling.
Combs, scissors and full body depilation quickly followed, bringing us right up to date as Marcello bids me forward and I’m still thinking, ‘this is costing me 50 bucks’
“So what are we having done today, Sir?” I say, “What about the same as I have now, but somewhat shorter?”
Marcello follows with the inevitable, “When was the last time you had it cut?” This is a perfectly reasonable question that as a matter of policy I always lie to. I know why I lie to the dentist about my last check-up, but I don’t know why I’m lying to Marcello. I say, “Three or four weeks ago, I think.”
Marcello says, “OK loverboy, let’s get you shampoo'd and conditioned.” He takes me over to the bank of sinks and I am praying, I am really praying, but I know what is about to happen.
Out of the four or five nice young women occupying the shampooing positions in this upscale salon, they give me to the solitary adolescent male, who doesn’t want to wash my hair just as much as I don’t want him to wash my hair. Call me a sexist right wing reactionary, but I dislike having my hair washed by someone who is going through his lifetime peak of masturbatory activity, and lifetime trough of personal cleanliness.
The one thing you can count on in these fancy salons though is that they have all got their thing, and everybody must do the thing. So the boy gives me an extended head massage before conditioning me. ‘I’m paying 50 bucks for this’
It is finally over, but I want to cry. Marcello sits me down and appraises my head somewhat ruefully. He sets to work. Women can chat to their hairdressers and strike up an instant rapport. It’s a bit more difficult between men, but we do this...
“Are you new here, Marcello? I’ve been coming here for three years and I never saw you before.” Marcello says, “I’ve been working here for five years.”
This is okay because these places work in shifts and it’s not unlikely that you wouldn’t see someone, so I give him this, “I used to have my haircut by Maria, in fact, when she was interviewing for the job here, I was her model.”
Marcello said, “Then I’m surprised your never saw me before because I gave Maria her interview.”
A different guy would shut up at that point, but these situations are easily rescued if you have guts and just keep on going, so I say, “Well after Maria left I used to get my hair cut all the time by Adrian. He’s a really really nice guy and a great hairdresser.”
“Oh, Adrian moved away as well. It just got to the stage where it was either him, or me who had to go. Anyway, I hope you think I’m a nice guy and a great hairdresser as well. By the way, I’m a Creative Director here.”
I give a laugh but the wheels are working out a way not to give him a compliment that might sound like a come on, so I put him on the back foot with, “Let’s see how good a haircut you give me first before I say how nice you are!” This makes him laugh and then his wheels start working to make sure he gives me a good cut. His niceness is at stake.
He is working away for a while but he comes in with the traditional hairdressers opening - where am I from? He scores no points off me as I dance around his questions of national dress (the kilt) and weather (constant rain). If handled incorrectly, the kilt line of questioning can go astray, but I’ve seen these moves many times before. He circles round to hit me with national foodstuffs and in particular, the haggis.
I give him the banter about the haggis being an animal with the inside two legs being shorter than the outer two so that they can run around hills, and that we catch them by pushing them over. Then I say, “…but you can’t get it in Amsterdam…” which was the right place to stop, but I add, “…well…there is one restaurant you can get it.”
He nails me with, “Oh! When are you going to invite me to eat haggis with you?” I bounce off the ropes and land on the canvas. The count begins – I only have 8 seconds before a it’s a knockout. I get up on one knee with, “The haggis there is not really the best,” which is a lame effort that I feel bad for, so I say, “but if you want we can go after I’ve had my wisdom teeth out.” I wouldn’t have blamed him for plunging his scissors into my eyeball.
Marcello is quiet for a minute or two as he cleans up my neckline. Then he says, “People think that all male hairdressers are gay, but I’m telling you, I get hotel keys from women, envelopes full of money and the most beautiful women you ever saw coming on to me all the time. I could have sex every single day if I wanted to.”
Suddenly my interest is piqued. “Hotel keys?”
“That’s what I said, my man, hotel keys. Sometimes they want me to bring a friend. Have you ever been in a threesome?”
I have to admit that was a good combination by Marcello, but I make a sign of the cross and say, “I’m a good Catholic boy, I could never do such a thing.” This was meant as a jokey polite refusal, but Marcello’s eyes light up and I discover to my delight that the man is a born again Christian, who has given up the sins of the flesh. He encourages me to give up masturbation (I’d rather lose my right hand) and join him at his church later in the week.
One minute I’m having hotel key powered dreams of becoming a hairdressing apprentice with Marcello as my Obi-Wan Kenobi, then my erstwhile Master offers me a threesome which seems like a cover to rape me, and now I really need to know that only Jesus can save a fornicator like me. I’m thinking, ‘this haircut is costing me 50 bucks’.
The haircut was outstanding, I must say: shapely, spikey, sculptural. I even bought some product - a special hair putty - and left Marcello a tip. He embraced me as I was leaving. I think it was spiritual in nature.
So the next day my hair is all flat and nothing like Marcello left is so I determine to spike it up good and proper with the hair putty. Nobody uses hair gel anymore – did you know that? People use hair wax, hair putty, hair mud, hair spunk. I take a glob of the putty and rub it between my hands and get stuck in for a wild effect. I’m pulling my hands down through my hair and flinging my head back hard when something goes pop in my neck and excruciating pain shoots up and down my spine and across my shoulder blades. I go down on all fours unable to move, and stay there like a dog with rigor-mortis. I remember laughing at my friend George who popped his back out and couldn’t move for three days after lifting a flimsy plastic table. I had just done the same applying hair putty with excessive vigour. I’m typing this now like a dog with rigor-mortis – only my fingers and eyeballs can move painlessly. My head, neck, shoulders, arms and wrists are locked solid.
Ug spent more and more time caring for the appearance of the womenfolk. Ng took over her role as sabre-tooth tiger bait. Soon Ug was making cave drawings of her own – god-like men with curly locks and hairless, heaving chests. The menfolk looked on.
My friend said to me, "I broke up with my girlfriend, I'm in a bad place right now." I said to him, "I know that place so well I could draw a chalk circle around it."
Stalk to Me
Police have recruited stalkers to help fight the war on terror in downtown New York. The stalkers are being issued with identity badges and radios and have been asked to report any suspicious activity that could be linked to international terrorism.
The scheme has the backing of New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomburg and senior officials from the Department of Homeland Security.
New York City Chief of Police, Rocky Johansson, said: "We want to encourage everyone, but particularly those who skulk unseen around the city to call us if they spot something out of the ordinary, to contact police if they believe something they see or hear is suspicious.
"Stalkers are watching urban activity every day and their vigilance can only be to our advantage. They may see evidence of secret meetings between islamic extremists, or spot terrorists performing surveillance on a possible target. We have to stop thinking of stalkers as societal pariahs, and start thinking of them as intelligence assets."