Buddhism for Dummies Jonathan Landaw: Book Review

This is an excellent introduction to Buddhism. It is written in a simple style making some complex ideas very accessible. It is packed with information about the life of the Buddha, different styles of Buddhism, basic tenets and historical information. I found it fascinating and enjoyable. It has made me want to delve deeper into the subject and to start to practise more seriously. I feel incorporating Buddhist practices with my pre-existing shaky Christian beliefs could solve a lot of my problems. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in spirituality.51id0U2rgDL._SX394_BO1,204,203,200_

Notes from The Old Chapel – summer – a year in Norfolk

It has been a year since we moved to The Old Chapel in Norfolk. It does not seem like a year. The summer is in full swing, the sun is shining and everything is in bloom. It is an idyllic time of year. The fields are full or ripening barley and the hedgerows are full of birdsong and wild flowers. It is hard to believe that a few months ago I felt like I was freezing to death.

It is wonderfully warm. The birds in the garden, ever hungry, get through a container of bird food a day. It seems like one minute it’s full, the next it’s gone. The garden is growing vigorously in its unruly way and I am battling weeds and overgrown bushes.

My mood has improved with the sunshine as has my sinusitis that has blighted my health this year. I am feeling almost well though I have to guard against my dark moods.

I set up a business this year, LittleBuddha, where I sell handicrafts online from India and Nepal. Business has been very slow and though I love selling Buddhist things I am not sure it has a long term future. It seems pretty hard to get noticed online and I can’t afford heavy advertising. I am deciding if it is worth keeping it going for longer or if I should just jack it. It has taken up a lot of my time for very litte reward.

My novel lies neglected. I have not been very productive with writing so I need to get back to it. I can feel it calling me again.

I have done a lot of work on myself to try to heal my mental health but it often feels like one step forward and two steps back. I have found meditation and the tenets of Buddhism to be helpful. I try to concentrate on the moment and not dwell on the past and future. I think I may still need to seek outside help.

The Chapel is lovely to live in in summer. The conservatory holds the heat and is wonderful to sit in any time of the day or night. I still feel like it isn’t mine, that I am just a visitor renting a holiday home for a time. I need to make my stamp on it. If it could be eternal summer I feel like I could be truly well here.

I am mostly alone as my husband works long hours. I sometimes wish for friends but I would rather have no friends than the wrong ones. This is a mistake I have made many times. It is a year I have shed yet more toxic people from my life and I don’t regret it. It was a necessary clearing out of the past.

My dog Didi is  a constant companion and he is a great friend, funny, mischevious and ever loyal. We heal each other.

Looking outward, it has been a year of many disasters: Brexit, the election, terrorism attacks, the London Tower fire. All these events weigh on the mind. I struggle to find a way to deal with their impact.

I feel like there has been a lot of reflection but not enough action. I need to move forward to find my place in the world. I feel a great restlessness, a need to do something meaningful, to make some mark.

I need to write… and maybe something else…

Thoughts on the British Election 2017

So things get weirder and weirder. We wake up to find a hung parliament and the Prime Minister Theresa May seeking coalition with the DUP of Northern Ireland. We are in a strange no-man’s land like the day after a party.

As a life long leftie the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party almost felt like a victory. I have grown used to defeat. The British Left usually shambles along, edging further and further away from socialism into the  over-crowded centre ground. We are all resigned to it. Politics is as dull as ditch water presided over by men in identical suits who all look like estate agents. Then suddenly along comes Jerermy Corbyn to lead the Party. He is that rarest of things – a real socialist. He has principles and everything. He doesn’t believe in nuclear war; he thinks dialogue is the way to solve problems; he believes in decent housing and a living wage; he wants to save the NHS from oblivion.  He is Gandalf leading us out of Mordor back to the shire and the 1970’s or the 1950’s. The press said he was unelectable and would consign Labour to the wilderness. The pundits attacked him at every opportunity. He didn’t quite get elected but he nearly did. He was just a few seats short. He was brilliant on the campaign trail, making rousing speeches and connecting with people. It was glorious. I woke up to the news and felt almost elated. After all I had been expecting total defeat, such is the lot of the long suffering Leftie.

People have had enough. They want something different. The young were actually roused from their slumbers and went out and voted. This alone is an incredible achievement.

Theresa May is limping on but for how long? I almost feel sorry for her. She proved on the campaign trail not to be a very nice person, hiding from the voters, making personal attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, refusing to debate the opposition. She cut a bizarre figure scurrying from one rented hall to another addressing the party faithful almost in secret. It was like Marie Antoinette avoiding the baying, unwashed mob. She was as a Headmistress of an ever so nice girls’ school, pretending to be lovely but underneath all scrawny hatred and frustration and bile. This is middle-England in all its vileness. I have met so many of the type.

So here we are. Not quite entering the socialist utopia with equality for all but almost. Aslan is on the move at last. Be afraid arrogant Tories.

Be humbled.

Book Review: The English Girl Katherine Webb

This was an unul248843sual book someone bought for me as a present.  Set in the 1950’s a young Joan Seabrook gets the chance to leave dreary England and have an adventure in Oman, fulfilling a dream of visiting mysterious, romantic Arabia. While there she gets to meet a childhood hero, the female explorer Maude Vickery. Strange events unfold as Joan is caught up in the local politics of the region and has her own journey into the desert with some unexpected twists and turns along the way.

There is a dual narrative jumping back and forth between Joan’s story and Maude’s earlier Edwardian adventure which keeps the novel interesting.

I quite enjoyed the book and it is very well written with beautiful descriptions of the desert, a landscape I have long struggled to see the appeal of. It was interesting to see it through the eyes of someone who loved it. At points the pace of  the novel is very slow and it could have benefited from being a good deal shorter. It is a thoughtful book dealing with feminist issues, women torn between love and domesticity and a longing for adventure and excitement and those themes touched me. I would be interested to read more from this author.

 

Thoughts on the Manchester Attacks

It has taken me a while to be able to write about the recent terrorist attack in Manchester and just as I was about to do so another one happened in London. I want to just concentrate on the Manchester one in this piece.

I heard it first on the morning news as I had gone to bed early. It seemed the most despicable thing you could think of: going to a concert full of little girls and teens to blow them up in the name of Islamic Jihad. It takes some getting your head around. Indeed you can’t get your head around it, not ever.

I know Manchester well. I lived there for years right in the heart of the inner city and I taught in schools. As the police raided areas where the terrorists had lived it was like a roll call of my old stamping grounds. Inner city Manchester is very mixed. There are traditional white working class among third generation Asians, Carribeans, Africans, Chinese and newer waves of immigrants who are often refugees from war zones. The schools have ever changing populations. I thought of the terrorist who turned out to be the British born son of Libyan immigrants living in Fallowfield. This was a typical Manchester boy, nothing would have seemed out of the ordinary. There are so many like him.

I taught a lot of Muslim boys in my time in Manchester. Some from Pakistan, some from Somali, and no doubt lots of other places. Usually, they were quite easy to teach. They could be cheeky and mildly mischievous but usually buckled down quickly enough. They didn’t mind my discipline. Maybe they were used to it from the mosque or from home. They were certainly usually more amenable than the Carribean boys who I always struggled with. It is hard to think that one of these harmless boys might grow up to be a suicide bomber.

Inner city Manchester is multi-cultural. At school they all rubbed along together but the communities really kept themselves separate from each other. There wasn’t much mixing of friendships. I was aware of some racial slurring between the groups. It was a harsh place with lots of poverty and little green space. It seemed to kind of work. I met some good people and though I have mixed memories I did have some very good times in the clubs, bars and restaurants of such a varied city.  A Rusholme curry was my favourite go to comfort food. It is a long way from the coddled Home Counties upbringing of much of the London chattering classes who decide things about our country.

How could it happen? A boy who has grown up in the city, gone to school, attended the mosque in the evening, watched TV, played football in the street…then decides to go and kill some of the people of this very same city.

I have no answers. Nobody seems to have any answers. Those of us on the Left can point to British foreign policy, bombings and invasions which have stirred up resentment and anger. This isn’t enough though to explain such brutal act freely chosen. We could point to the fractured nature of our society where so many feel alienated. Still not enough.

We have no answers.

As a spiritual person I always struggle with the problem of evil in the world. It seems to be there in the warp and weft of nature and in people. How can God let this be? I don’t know.

As we learn more it seems that the signs were all there. Trips back and forth to Libya, reports from the mosque goers of support for Jihad from the perpetrator, a possible ISIS flag draped from the bedroom window, reciting verses from the Koran in the street. We imagine he was on some kind of watch list.

I always come back to the possibility of mental illness. It seems the only way to explain such actions yet the media virtually dismiss this and concentrate on ISIS as the explanation.

It does not seem within the spirit of any religion to commit senseless acts of violence like this. I have read the Koran and nowhere does Mohammed condone such actions but it is full of violent actions but usually in the context of war. The Old Testament also has such stories. There are no Christian suicide bombers I know of.

ISIS seemed to have perverted Islam into some kind of death cult whose brutality reminds one of the Nazis. It is impossible to understand in any rational way. But then people are not rational.

I wonder what was going through his mind as he walked to the Manchester Arena with the intention to kill and be killed. Did he really believe he would be welcomed into Heaven as an Islamic martyr? Maybe he does.

Old as I am I can remember the IRA bombings. I did think there would never be an end to them but then somehow through dialogue and compromise there was a ceasing.

How do we deal with ISIS? Is it possible to negotiate with an organisation like this who want an Islamic caliphate across the world? Or is the answer to destroy them, wipe them from the face of the earth?

I have no answers but we pay our taxes to those who tell us that they know better than us, that they will protect us and our way of life. They have failed to do this. They seem to have no answers either. Their platitudes do not help. The well meaning vigils and candles are lovely expressions of humanity but they are not an answer. We are told to keep calm and carry on. We are British after all. The Blitz is referenced often. Yes we will do that but while the bombs were raining down on London in the War there were men doing the same to the enemy, doing the unpleasant things we don’t want to think about but which need to be done to keep us safe.

We need to listen, we need to learn, we need to understand but we must also act.

We need an answer.

Walk in Norfolk – Creake Abbey and Burnham Thorpe

On Sunday along with husband and dog I set out for a walk. The rain of recent days gave way to sunshine and mild temperatures. We went to north Norfolk as we often do as it’s prettier than the bit of Norfolk we live in.

We arrived at Creake Abbey. This is a ruin left in the Middle Ages due to plague. It’s peaceful. I like ruined things. There isn’t a great deal of it left, just two arches and part of a wall. There is a smart tea room with tables outside where you can have light bites. I had fish cakes. It was very pleasant.

We set out with our trusty guide book which turned out to be very untrusty. There was a large sign saying keep out where we were supposed to start and a handy map telling us that the walk was wrongly marked in the guide book and we had to go a different way. Very get off my land. You get a lot of this in Norfolk as in the rest of England. It is all owned and it seems like in a lot of it ramblers are not welcome. We found the “permissive path” and set off. Our walk was now two miles shorter than it should have been. We wound our way across fields and farm tracks. The countryside is full of life at this time of year. There is cow parsley along side the hedgerows, mallow flowers, butterflies, buttercups, all manner of wild flowers bursting into life. The farmers’ fields are full of yellow rape. I felt totally at peace.

The walk went through Burnham Thorpe which, to my surprise, is the birth place of Nelson. We stumbled across a plaque saying the rectory he had been born in was on this spot. Sadly it has been torn down. There is a smart holiday let barn built in its place. I felt a fascination to learn more about Nelson and read about him when I got home. He certainly had an eventful life and went to sea at the age of twelve. All a contrast to the quiet of his birth place.  The village is small and sleepy and very pretty. There are lots of intriguing cottages which would be idyllic to live in.

More farm tracks along the walls of the Holkham estate until we finally got back to Creake Abbey where we started. At one point we had to navigate through a field of llamas who looked at us inquisitively. It was an easy, flat walk through gentle countryside and I felt good when I finished. I think it was about two and a half hours walk at a slow pace.

North Norfolk is always a delight with a variety of countryside – green pasture, crops, small copses of woodland and a glimpse of sea in the distance.

A good day.

Emmanuel Macron and Brigitte and why they couldn’t be British

I have been the thinking all week about the French president elect and his wife Brigitte. Their relationship has caused quite a stir in the world’s media. I am no expert on their relationship after having read a few newspaper articles but I find it gladdens my soul, which does not seem to be the reaction of most British people.

Macron met Brigitte when he was fifteen at school in a drama class. She was twenty-four years his senior and his teacher. They formed a bond. Macron’s parents became worried about the relationship and sent him away to Paris to finish his education. The relationship endured this and they became a couple when he was seventeen. They later married and their relationship continues successfully to this day. They lived in Paris where Macron pursued a career in the civil service and then in banking until finally he entered politics.

Comments in the media and social media seem full of the usual bitter vitriol to such a woman. It is paedophilia to some, to others inappropriate because of the teacher-pupil relationship. All this may be factually true but the fact remains they have an enduring, loving relationship that has stood the test of time and disapproval of others. This is no mean feat for any of us. It seems to me to be true love, a meeting of soul mates rather than just a tacky sexual attraction which is short lived. How lovely. How rare.

I knew what  the reaction of the British public would be to the relationship because my novel Pearlcasting which dealt with a similar subject got a very luke warm welcome. It makes people feel icky apparently.

I can’t help feeling that if Macron and Brigitte had been modern day Brits their story would not have ended so happily. Brigitte would have been placed on the sex offendors register and probably imprisoned. Public office would not have been possible. Puritanism would have won the day. The French have draconian privacy laws and indeed their age of consent is only fifteen. They seem to take a much more relaxed view of such things.

I don’t know too much detail about their relationship and in a way I don’t want to know as it might spoil the love story for me. It gives me hope that somewhere somehow real love can actually exist beyond the conventions of society.

What is it with the British and our ever more draconian laws about sex and other aspects of people’s private lives? Indeed it is not just the British. The USA has even more stringent laws on this subject and Canada, Australia and New Zealand seem much the same. There is something about Anglo-Saxon culture that just can’t stand the fact that someone some place might actually be happy. Paedophiles, the definition of which is cast ever wider, should be jabbed with pitchforks seems to be the widely held view. Falling in love with a fifteen year old is not paedophilia to me or to some experts on the subject but this is where we are as a society. Of course young children need protecting but the hysteria surrounding this  reveals something very dark about Anglo-Saxon Judeao-Christian societies. The thriving nature of teen porn in the darker reaches of the internet tells us all something. Something we don’t want to think about.

I am glad Macron and Brigitte found love and I hope it continues for many years to come.

Vive la France!

Adventures in Network Marketing – don’t do it – Kleeneze

In my multifarious attempts to gain an income stream without a bullying boss to contend with I entered the murky world of network marketing or mlm marketing as some people call it. I was lured in through deception which is what happens to everyone. I answered an ad on a local job site which was to deliver leaflets. There are hardly any jobs in my rural area so I was willing to give it a go to supplement my non-existent writing income. When enquiring about the job I was directed to a video. It was slick and clever and featured lots of successful people who had given up their corporate jobs to do this full time and had made a fortune. It wasn’t even about delivering leaflets at all. The video was all about posting ads online and getting buyers. It was that easy. Post a few ads online overnight and see the money come rolling in in the morning. Yeah right. Nothing could be that easy could it? I didn’t expect millionaire status but I could do with some extra money so I enquired further. I had a skype interview with a Midlands couple who did this full time. They were very matey and seemed to have a comfortable life. He had been a supermarket manager and she had been a nurse. They had to finally admit to me that the company was Kleeneze. I was slightly put off by this as I had heard of them before but I kept going.

Kleeneze was a company started in the fifties selling brushes door to door. They had expanded through network marketing and now sold all sorts through catalogues and online.

I rashly signed up for the online version of the job which was the cheapest version. I had to pay thirty pounds for which I got about five catalogues and access to a website which gave me all the information I needed to get started. What was really was involved was setting up a facebook group, inviting everyone you know on facebook to join it and then posting products from the catalogues in the hope that people would buy them. People could pay through paypal via Facebook message. It sounded simple. It really didn’t work for me at all.

The first problem was that network marketing is all about getting friends and family involved. The idea is that they will buy from you at first to get the ball rolling. None of my friends and family bought anything from me. I even sent my mum a catalogue who pronounced in her inimitable blunt style that everything was cheaper in the pound shop and flatly refused to buy anything. So much for friends and family support in your business venture. I posted in my group, advertised my group in local selling groups and got some new members. Nobody bought anything. I posted ads for the products in facebook groups. Nobody bought anything. I had to have weekly chats with my line manager/mentor supermarket guy who told me to keep going and it would happen. I told him it wasn’t working. He suggested delivering catalogues to get orders which was the traditional way of doing the business. He promised me that people would buy from the catalogues because apparently they always did. I had to buy the catalogues out of my own money. I bought about fifty. I delivered them in my small village and got two orders. I delivered them further afield and got a few more. I was averaging about two orders for every fifty catalogues. You then had to order the goods through the website and they would take weeks to arrive. You didn’t get free delivery unless you ordered loads so I orders some household stuff for myself.  When the products arrived they were all really poor quality made in China plastic crap. I was disappointed. Why would anyone pay a premium price for this stuff? The commission on each sale was pitiful and at the end of the month I had to pay a huge bill from Kleeneze for the goods. I was making about two pounds a week. So much for a get rich quick scheme.

I realised from looking at the support website that the way to make money was to recruit others. Money was given for each person that you recruited and you made money from their sales. It was like a huge pyramid with people like my line manager at the top. Pyramid schemes are illegal but Kleeneze is like a pyramid scheme in every way except there are actual real products which are sold. The thing  is the money is not made from selling the products but from recruiting others into the pyramid. You were supposed to yes again recruit your friends and family into the pyramid. This was not going to happen with my family. I tried recruiting through facebook job ads. I got a few phone calls but once people knew it was Kleeneze they weren’t interested. They were wiser than me. I got no recruits.

There was a facebook support group for Kleeneze reps which i joined. I needed all the moral support I could get. Apparently some people were making a lot of money. I talked on the phone to a really nice guy form Jersey who didn’t recruit but made a decent living just from the catalogues. The secret he told me is volume. He did hundred of deliveries a week. I liked the idea of just selling and not  recruiting. I didn’t feel comfortable at all recruiting people into something that might not work. There were a lot of vulnerable people being suckered in.  I bought more catalogues to do more volume and expanded into other areas with my deliveries. To my horror I discovered there were other reps in neighbouring villages doing exactly the same as me. Kleeneze do not give you your own territory. How could you sell to someone who has just had a catalogue the day before? Most of my customers were elderly and I felt massive guilt at selling them shoddy goods at inflated prices. They seemed to be the only people who were interested. Most people were lovely but some were incredibly rude and aggressive when someone dropped something through their door. Often I would drop a catalogue through and an enraged older person would leap out immediately and give me it back. Lots of people had no leaflet signs. Everyone was wise to this scam except me it seems.

My line manager got extremely shirty when he found out I had been talking to the Jersey guy. He said if I wasn’t going to recruit I couldn’t be in his team. Lots of people on the support forum were also far from supportive. It all seemed very poisonous and I abandoned the whole project after a couple of months. I didn’t even mind the walking delivering part and it made me think being a postman would be okay. I made peanuts. This is the modern gig economy and it stinks.

According to the many videos and marketing burb that Kleeneze produces there are some people making a lot of money. I can believe this to be true but it didn’t work in my case at all. Yes I could have kept doggedly on but I think the whole enterprise is borderline unethical. I kept in contact with some of the other poor souls who started with me and they have all since abandoned it with virtually no sales. I think the market must be saturated.

I wouldn’t really recommend this to anyone.

The silver lining is it gave me a kick start to start my own company selling what I want in the way I want and being able to be ethical. No line managers for me.

There are a lot of other companies operating in a similar way but I think the  outcome is usually the same. The only way to succeed is to recruit an awful lot of people.  I was out of pocket on what I had spent on the catalogues and I had probably alienated some friends and neighbours.

Beware.