A window into the underbelly of a nation…

I have a confession to make- I watch too much TV.

We have a Sky TV package at the moment which we bought because Test Match Cricket is only shown live on Sky Sports these days. At the time we started the package you got to chose three categories- and we chose the sport, kids entertainment and more as penance, the documentary channels- well they will be educational won’t they (we thought.)

So we have a hundred channels. Mostly American. Mostly all different shades of crap.

Religious crap (possibly the most pungent of all.)

Consumer crap- all those shopping channels.

Lifestyle crap- ways of sexing up your house, your body, your holidays, your sex.

Endless rolling repeats of CSI and all of its spin-offs.

Do you remember the old conversations about what might happen if aliens tuned in to our TV in order to try to understand human kind. What might they learn about us. What sense would they be able to make of Jersey Shore or Big Brother?

Perhaps they might learn quite a lot about us from the documentary channels I referred to above however. By the way- most of these programmes do not show documentaries of the kind we would have grown up with. There is very little in the way of education- no David Attenborough or ‘The World About Us’- rather the channels are full of angry tattooed men and women shouting at each other whilst making motorbikes, digging for gold, attending auctions, or repossessing possessions and pets from the undeserving feckless poor.

Here is what I think they are telling us about ourselves;

The world is a scary dangerous place- but thankfully we can protect ourselves. Or at least you can if you are an American, because there they have GUNS.

There are several programmes worshipping the icon of the gun. A couple are gun manufacturers – God fearing families who just happen to love blowing things up. There is very little mention of shooting people, just the fun fun fun of bang bang bang.

There are others that endless spiral around catching terrorists, shooting insurgents, glorifying the work of our military hero’s. There is no questioning of purpose, intent or context. Facts are served up behind an unspoken set of assumptions about the way the world is, and the inherent rightness of our side. It is like warfare waged by Disney.

There is one that scares me more though which I flicked past tonight. It is called Doomsday Preppers, and is on the National Geographic channel. This programme visits individuals and groups of Americans who have taken the decision to live their lives in preparation for what they see as an inevitable disaster- either a natural disaster like an earthquake, or a breakdown in law and order after an economic crisis or a terrorist attack. ‘Experts’ then evaluate the plans and preparations, suggesting better ways of for people to arm themselves, to store more food and water, and how to prepare better ‘bug out’ escape plans. Again, there is no questioning of the assumptions behind the prepping or the sanity of lifestyles dedicated to dealing with insecurity and fear by military stockpiling.

It reminded me of this;

Such fear-mongering, reinforced by security entrepreneurs, the mass media and the entertainment industry, generates its own momentum.The terror entrepreneurs, usually described as experts on terrorism, are necessarily engaged in competition to justify their existence. Hence their task is to convince the public that it faces new threats.

The next group of programmes celebrate above all, individuality;

In our wonderful capitalist democratic free market utopias, everyone can succeed- so long has they work hard, and play by the rules of the game.

There are several motorcycle programmes- fat men swearing at each other and hammering on metal. I quite like the fact that they are making things with their hands. Then there are those people who buy up storage units that appear to have been forgotten by their owners. This seems to me to be bottom feeding of the worst kind- we have no idea what happened to the original owners of all the stuff. All we know is that there is money to be made.

Again the assumptions of all this gold digging and empire building are never questioned. Life is good, and life is massive.

I hope those Aliens also watch Eastenders- it would be a shame if they thought that we were all happy and fulfilled in our collective dysfunction.

Canoeing the Congo…

Little mishaps aside, I love canoeing.

Since my accident a couple of years ago, I realise I have been much more cautious, particularly on the sea. Whilst caution might well be understandable, and even (particularly from Michaela’s point of view) a welcome corrective, I do not like it.

I do not like the shrinking of the far horizon, or the idea that adventure should be avoided. I do not like decisions to be dominated by anxiety/fear in relation to things I used to do with an easy smile.

This year, I intend to get out in the canoe a lot more.

Having said all that, I am not sure I am quite ready for this, no matter how much the idea of it excites me;

Here is a quote from here;

At night, in the absence of firm ground, my technique would be to paddle as hard as I could and ram myself into the thickest area of reeds I could find. I’d then try to somehow drag and push my way further through, until I was securely wedged in with little risk of capsizing. I figured that since I was surrounded by tightly packed reeds, I’d have to be pretty unlucky to get a surprise visit from anything big enough to fit my head in its mouth. On more than one occasion I was awoken in the middle of the night by crashing, splashing sounds, but after a while I got used to it. Crashing, splashing sounds are one thing – something horrible ripping your leg off is quite another.

Thankfully, there are no crocodiles in the West of Scotland.

The Midgies have eaten them all.


Facing fear…

Michaela is away for the weekend to meet an old school friend in the Lake District. The kids and I needed an little adventure of our own and so I somewhat reluctantly agreed to a trip to an amusement park.

I am not a fan of these places. They are very expensive, and I usually feel rather depressed by the tacky pre-packaged fear-tainment- each step we take carefully ‘monetized’ (forgive the Americanism.)

They are all about noise,  smelly fast food and rust-streaked mass manipulation and they offer a quick adrenaline buzz which is over in a flash of neon and a wave of nausea.

It is a far cry from the trips into empty wild places that I love so much- and try to inculcate into my children’s souls.

But to be honest, like most parents I am happiest when I have made my kids happy.

It was touch and go for a while. We arrived in a burst of excited chatter from the kids, and paid out the best part of £70 for tickets then walked around the park as the rides opened deciding what seemed possible and what we would avoid at all costs.

We all had such different thresholds. Emily would go on most things, me on a few- Will became increasingly quiet, and I knew that his world was getting smaller.

And so in this rather dreadful modern excuse for living fuller and more present lives, we all began a kind of journey.

Emily went on almost every ride- daring herself towards the extreme. There was also a reptile house, and she overcame her fear of spiders and held a Tarantula.

I too was banged and crashed around on roller coasters, and soaked on log flumes and water chutes.

But the greatest journey was made by William.

William is at his happiest when with his friends in the forest with a stick and a head full of pokemania. He is comfortable with what is known and understood and has little interest in what lies beyond this. So standing before a huge Ferris wheel, or a plunging water slide, or even a roller coaster aimed at little kids-he was transfixed with fear, and no amount of persuasion or encouragement would force him forward.

Emily was great, and took him on some little rides. He had a go on trampolines and crazy golf. But he was not happy. When I pushed him a little too hard, he wept into my shoulder.

So began a long conversation about how life was full of things that will shrink us down into ever smaller boxes- and how the only way to deal with fear was to face it  and take some small steps into the danger zone. And how we often find that when we do the the fear itself retreats and new things become possible.

And there in that artificial and rather unpleasant space, that is just what happened to Will. After a gulp he decided to go for the big scary Ferris wheel. He was visibly shaking- holding every muscle rigid, but still he climbed into the cage…

And the old magic happened. As we are exposed to fear, our autonomic nervous systems fire into fight or flight mode- thoughts become hyper focused and instinctive, blood flows to muscles, breathing becomes shallow and quick. We become totally pre-occupied with making the fear go away– and making the symptoms of the fear go away too. But for most of the time (particularly when the risk is measured or even unreasonable) if we stay in the moment- face up to the fear but act anyway- then we find that over a few minutes (around 5-20 mins)  the fear tails away, and the most primitive part of ourselves recalibrates to view this action as ‘safe’.

In this way, like the ripples made by a stone on still water, we expand.

Alternatively, if we avoid the fear then not only does this unlearning fail to happen, but actually we are likely to entrench the autonomic response still further. In some cases, the fear then encroaches on other areas of life like a kind of psychological gangrene.

Fear of falling then may extend to ladders, to tall buildings, to airplanes, to staircases.

In some cases, mixed with the right amount of vulnerability and damaging childhood experience, these fears make us a prisoner in our own bodies. They stop us coming out of our protective huddles- sometimes they stop people leaving their front doors.

It is kind of easy to visualise the fears of childhood- but so much more difficult to understand and unlock the fears that hold us as adults. I am reminded of that point where Jesus sends out his followers in twos to declare the New Kingdom in acts of healing and deliverance- and when some demons prove to be beyond them, he says that some only are over come by prayer and fasting. It is almost as if he is saying- there are no magical answers to this kind of freedom- it requires work.

Yesterday Williams faced up to his fear- and stood on top of his own mountain. And I was so proud of him.

May we stand on ours.

Because it is for FREEDOM that we are set free.