Sunday, September 21, 2014

Looking for an Honest Man


Ever feel like the bottom is dropping out of your world?

(By the way, if the world is dropping out of your bottom, that is an altogether different situation, and one best addressed through pharmaceutical means or through the purchase of a substantial cork bung.)

You need PHILOSOPHY.

Yup, the stuff those old Greeks used to dish out.

Aristotle, Plato and Socrates tend to get most of the top billing - maybe they had a good agent - but of all the miserable old bastards of the Hellenic World, I think my favourite is Diogenes.

Diogenes of Sinope was a strange bugger, whose original writings unfortunately have not survived the centuries, but his ideas have, courtesy of his fans and followers.

Diogenes was kicked out of his home town for adulterating and debasing the currency, and at one stage he got himself kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery. While living in Athens, he made a virtue of his poverty by begging and sleeping in a large ceramic jar in the marketplace. He was probably the first 'cosmopolitan', declaring himself a man of no country, rather a citizen of the world. Diogenes is most famous for wandering around during the daytime with a lamp, claiming he was looking for an honest man.

 In later life, he became a tutor in Corinth, where his philosophy of Cynicism became one of the foundations of the Stoic School.

These days, 'cynics' tend to get a bad press, but ask yourself: When was the last time you met a truly honest man?

Today's blog has been brought to you by Curmudgeons International. Free membership is available to all Miserable Old Gits, excluding politicians or anyone who thinks Miley Cyrus is pretty cool (or even pretty).



Saturday, September 6, 2014

Kilts and Ballot Boxes



So.

Only a few days before the people of Scotland vote on independence from the UK.

They have my sympathy. From my vantage point in South East Asia, it seems to me that our cousins north of the border have no more information now about what independence would mean than they had when this whole campaign started. From the Nationalist (“Yes”) side, they have appeals to Scottish pride and tradition, and statements about how Westminster is squandering the oil money; while from the Union (“No”) side they have veiled threats about currency and economic meltdown. But very few facts on which to base a rational decision.

The 1707 Act of Union glued England and Scotland together. It was supposed to end hundreds of years of bloodshed between the two countries, and was pushed through at a time of hardship for the Scots following the disaster of the Darien Scheme – a ‘get rich quick’ scam based on Panamanian trade, which wiped out a huge proportion of Scottish capital. From the English side, it was meant to secure a Protestant succession in perpetuity: Albion would give Scotland a financial bailout and access to colonial markets, and in return there would be no more Catholic kings.

So much for history.

Frankly, I don’t care how the vote goes. It won’t stop me – an Englishman from the North East – from celebrating Burns Night or from buying whisky. It won’t stop me having Scottish friends (with whom, btw, I generally have more in common than I do with those soft, wimpy Southerners). My general opinion is that nobody should belong to a club in which they no longer want to be a member. But what of the Scottish people who want to be part of the UK, but instead find themselves citizens of a new country? (An acquaintance of mine has a girlfriend who hails from the Crimea. He jokes that recently he went to bed with a Ukrainian and woke up beside a Russian.)

So how will the vote go?

If I want to find out how any event is likely to pan out, I always ignore the ‘experts’ and commentators, and instead have a look at the William Hill betting odds. These guys are pretty shrewd, and their business depends on their getting things right (usually). They currently think there is a two in five chance of the Scots voting for independence.

I might put a tenner on it. It’s a better return than the Bank of England is offering.



Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Only Two Kinds of Love Song


In my humble opinion ... there are only two kinds of love song.

There's, "I love you and you love me," and it's kinda boring. It doesn't go anywhere.

And then there's the kind of song that is, "I love you, but you love somebody else." Now that's interesting. It's painful, but it's interesting.

Thus begins Sting's introduction to When We Dance.

Can you listen to this without tearing up? You big GIRL.

Click HERE


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Tale of Percival, the Very Special Pig



Once upon a time, on the Holland family farm, there lived a pig called Percival.

Percival was a very special pig, and the Holland family held him in great affection.

One sunny, hot day in August, a visitor came to the farm. He was an old school friend of Farmer Holland and, as they had not seen each other in years, the two men embraced warmly. As I mentioned, it was a very hot day, so it would have been difficult for them to embrace any other way.

The farmer's friend - whose name was Peter - was given a tour of the farm, and it was then he encountered the very special pig, Percival, for the first time.

"That pig," said Peter, pointing at Percival. "He only has one eye and three legs. Moreover, I see his back is wreathed in bandages."

"Aha!" exclaimed the farmer. "That is Percival. He is a very special pig. Let me tell you all about him.
"Some years ago, my youngest daughter fell in the river, and he jumped into the flowing water, and pulled her to safety."

"That was a very special thing to do," said Peter, impressed.

"And not only that, but when we had a fire in the farmhouse, it was Percival that raised the alarm, and saved us all from perishing in our beds."

"Wow!" said Peter.

"And on yet another occasion, he scared away some burglars by leaping on them in the barn and emitting terrifying oinks."

"You must be so proud of him," said the visitor, and the farmer nodded.

"But tell me, why does he only have one eye and three legs? And why is his back swathed in bandages?"

"Ah," replied the farmer, touching the side of his nose with his finger. "A special pig like Percival, you do not eat him all at once."



Sunday, August 10, 2014

Meet My Main Character Blog Tour: David Braddock

The novelist, Billy Ray Chitwood, who I thought was my friend - but more of that in a minute - has tagged me in one of these blogger-passes-baton-to-blogger Internet wotsits.

The 'wotsit', as students of the Oxford English Dictionary will know, is the virtual equivalent of the thingumybob. For those of you old enough to remember the days when the postman brought your mail (and your dog bit him for his trouble), think 'chain letter'. Yup, that's right. When we writers have a dip in morale, we round up a gaggle of fellow delusional penmen and corral them into writing a post about something-or-other. It's a bit like a farmer's dog herding sheep into an ink-soaked coffin.

At this point, I'd like to write some clever literary metaphor about the Field of Wet Dreams, but after two beers, I'm not big on invention today. So, before the Plain English campaigners start hurling abuse in my direction, let me explain this in words that even a politician would understand.

The redoubtable Mr. Chitwood has nominated me and four other victims (sorry, I mean human sacrifices) to answer seven questions about a main character in one of our novels. Each one of us in turn then thinks of five people we don't like, and so the whole shameful saga continues until the world is plunged into anarchy and despair.

For my part, I'll deal with the questions with the same alacrity and enthusiasm a tree sloth would demonstrate when presented with the opportunity to go Jello wrestling in an Arizona cat-house. My conscience, however, prohibits me from passing on this poison chalice further. OK, I exaggerate slightly. Anyone who knows me will be well aware of the fact that I don't have a conscience, while the rest of you will be wondering when the hell I will just get on with it and answer the damn questions.

I should warn you first, however, that not all the answers will be truthful. If they were, nobody would buy my books and I'd be trapped in Blogger Hell for the rest of my life.

OK, OK, I'm getting to it. Sheesh, you guys are tetchy. Here's a cute picture of a cat to calm you down. And no, it's not my cat. I don't know whose cat it is. Neither do I care much.


My character is David Braddock, the protagonist in my mystery novel, Everyone Burns.

1. Tell us a little about this main character. Is he fictional or a historical person?
Well, duh. It's a novel, so he's fictional. Who makes these questions up (if anyone)?

2. When and where is the story in Everyone Burns set?
It's set in Thailand in 2005, just after the tsunami. For those who don't know, Thailand is in South East Asia - although if you don't know that it's pretty unlikely you will have read this far anyway. You'll be off chasing butterflies or wondering if the rocks in your cave are edible.

3. What should we know about him?
He's a burned-out private detective who has fled to Thailand for reasons I can't disclose without having to kill you afterwards. His inside leg is 32" and his favourite colour is black - like his lungs. (Yes, he's a heavy smoker. Shoot me.)

4. What is the main conflict? What messes up his life?
Everything. You name it, it messes up his life.

5. What is his personal goal?
To make sure the Police Chief doesn't find out he's sleeping with his wife. And maybe solve some grisly murders along the way.

6. What are the titles of your novels and where can we read more about them?
Ah, now you're talking!
The first three books in the Time, Blood and Karma series are Everyone Burns, Hungry Ghosts and A Poison Tree. Braddock features in all of them. You can find them (and me) on Amazon by clicking here. If you're with Amazon Prime or Amazon Unlimited, you can download them for free. How cool is that?
If you live in the UK, you can still grab a freebie short story, Jim Fosse's Expense Claim, by clicking here. It won't make up for the lousy weather, but it might make you chuckle for ten minutes. Longer if you're a slow reader.
If you're a real glutton for punishment, you can go to my website and learn all about my series and my unsavoury lifestyle in the Land of Smiles. Click - yes, you've guessed it - here.

7. When can we expect your next book to be published?
I have a novel that I'm co-authoring with thriller writer, Fiona Quinn, coming out in the autumn. It's entitled Chaos is Come Again, and I'm very excited about it. I do get excited about some things. Honestly. It's a noir comedy with elements of gothic and just downright crazy.
Book four in my mystery series - Running on Emptiness - will be out in 2015.


Phew! Have we done? Time for another beer.

And, Billy Ray? I do love you really, buddy.


Saturday, August 2, 2014

23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism


Ha-Joon Chang's iconoclastic book on the follies of untrammelled free-market economics was published shortly after the financial meltdown of 2008, but its messages remain relevant today: we still live in a world that teeters on the brink of monetary collapse. The damage wrought by the global crash was second only to the Great Depression, and its legacy - in terms of poverty, social stability and the impact on economic growth - may last for decades.

The author's premise is that thirty years of free-market ideology was at the root of the catastrophe and that, worryingly, the world has not learned from the experience. The next disaster may be just around the corner.

In spite of what the title suggests, "23 Things" is not a rabid attack on capitalism itself. There is much here to anger those from both the Political Left and the Political Right. It is more a thoughtful analysis of some of the underlying assumptions relating to the American 'brand' of capitalism, how they have spread across the globe and how such underpinning philosophies can be short-sighted and dangerous.

Ha-Joon Chang (who teaches at the Faculty of Economics at Cambridge, if you're interested) slices and dices economic statistics from the 1960s to the present day to show us that many of our deeply-held beliefs about education, the world's poor and the so-called 'post-industrial age' contain fatal flaws. Tellingly, he points out that the very free-market policies being forced on the developing nations are precisely NOT the policies pursued by the developed countries of the world while they were building their wealth.

The author is an economist who kinows the limitations of economics as a means of building a world fit for people to live in. He echoes Winston Churchill's view on democracy by asserting, "Capitalism is the worst economic system except for all the others", but unlike many merchants of doom he offers eight concrete suggestions on how to rebuild the world economy.

All in all, "23 Things" is a thought-provoking book and one which is written in a style that makes it accessible to the general reader not just to the disciples of the 'dismal science' of economics.