Better Late Than Never


My driving licence arrived today. It arrived in the post like a salmon-coloured invitation to a party that is any place I want it to be.

So I’m working. I’ve been working for a few weeks now. Working and saving. I need to get enough money to buy myself a vehicle I can call home. Then my littlest hobo schtick will be complete.


But I’m not writing.

Which is odd because I finally mustered up the courage to call myself a writer. Then I stopped.

The more I work, the less I write.

The less I work – of late at least – the less I write.

The older I get, the less I write.

I don’t really know what’s going on but I’m hoping it’s just a phase. Because if I don’t have writing, I don’t have anything.

I guess I need to pull my finger out and decide what it is I really want. But maybe deciding things is not my thing.

Maybe I need a near-death experience to teach me the value of time.

Or maybe I just need to do more.

And get one of these…


But first, work.


Life Is Serious

You pick up a copy of the Metro somewhere around Shoreditch High Street, though you know it will make you angry. You are, however, heading toward your first group meditation sitting since you finished your course in July, so you figure you can handle it.

It is a Thursday.

On the front page, Alan Sugar is threatening to move to China if Jeremy Corbyn ever becomes Prime Minister. You think the same thought millions of others must have thought and happily imagine the hate-filled homunculus slowly disappearing into a sea of suits in rush-hour Beijing. In the paper he prattles, semi-literate, about how Corbyn is bad for business. Fuck business, you mumble. Fuck you too, Sugar, with your luxury flats and your idiotic notions of poverty.

You toss the paper aside with a sneer and catch the eye of an attractive woman sitting opposite. She has ash-blonde hair and Swedish lips. She looks away immediately. You cannot blame her. You wonder if it’s all over, the relationship thing. You downloaded Tindr but you haven’t had the balls to set up a profile yet. What are you going to write? ‘I’m too old for this. I’m too old for you. Cannot cut the mustard. Can still lick the jar. Let me lick your jar.’ You roll your eyes and curse Alan Sugar again. Fucking business.

You get off the train at Dalston Junction and have to run into a pub to use the loo. Upstairs, outside the toilet is a framed photograph of a young woman. The glass in the lopsided frame is smashed to shards and the whole thing is held together with extremely shoddily applied cling film. It is like looking in a mirror. You take a photo.


You make your way to the sitting venue and you meditate with a handful of strangers. It is good. It is powerful stuff. You remember. You make promises to yourself.

On the train on the way home, a 20-something Eastern European woman pretends to be interested in the conversation of a red-faced man who is almost certainly paying for her company. She eats a giant bag of Monster Munch and you watch fascinated as her smile disappears like Sugar under Corbyn every time her face turns away from her probably pretend partner, her business partner. He is maybe a year or two older than you are.

You count your blessings.

You bite the nails on your left hand.

You vow to take life more seriously.

This could be a mistake.


Sakena Yacoobi and Why I’m Always Weeping

I want to share this with you, because of love, because of compassion, and because of trust and honesty.

There is a wonderful TED talk embedded beneath this brief life update. It’s about resistance, and the transformative power of education. And it made me weep. But then lots of things have made me weep recently. On Saturday I wept copiously whilst watching Miss You Already in an almost deserted screening in Peckham.

Which is where I learned about this

Before I die ... New Orleans

I wept a fair bit in Nottingham recently too, where I spent a week cat-sitting, decorating and listening to old and new episodes of Radiolab and This American Life.  I also wept over St Vincent. Which came as a surprise. Even watching the trailer again now brought a certain thickness to the throat.

I like a good weep. Sometimes I worry I’m a little too prone. Then I think nah.

Mostly I weep with joy and a kind of all-encompassing awe-inspiring optimism for the future of humankind. I consider this healthy weeping.

What doesn’t make me weep, generally, is injustice. Like when, day after day after day after day, I read stories of (mostly) American police abusing their power (mostly courtesy of the Free Thought Project); or when I see people hating foreigners on social media; or when I read more about how the whole financial system is a great big lie designed to make the rich richer and enslave the poor. Then I just get angry. I think it’s good anger too, not destructive anger, because it makes me want to do something about it. And in this I’m not alone.

But to return to weeping.

Sometimes I almost weep, then I hold it in because it’s not considered appropriate to weep in a public place. It makes people uncomfortable and the truth is, I feel embarrassed. I don’t want to feel embarrassed but I do. And that holds me back.

Last Monday afternoon, for example, whilst buying a bottle of actually not particularly inexpensive prosecco in a branch of Lidl. On that occasion, the emotion was mostly the result of an overwhelming wave of relief at having just – finally – passed my driving test. The urge was strong, but I held back. And I kind of wish I hadn’t.

I like to imagine a world where if we feel like weeping, we weep. Openly, unashamedly, even vigorously, giving full vent to all of our emotions. I imagine a whole world of weepers and moaners and proud primal screamers, all getting it out of their systems, whenever and wherever it arises.

Actually, that might be a bit much.

But a world in which showing emotion is not regarded as a sign of weakness or mental instability or something to be politely if stiffly ignored.

That would be nice.

Anyway, this TED talk, by Sakena Yacoobi, is the latest thing to make me weep, so I thought I’d share it. It’s inspiring to me. Hopefully to you too, whoever you are, however you weep…


Global Perception of Police as Untouchable Uniformed Mafia Is Massively Reinforced, This Time in Queensland


In Australia in 2012, three men working as police officers brutally assaulted a man in a car park.

They were brought to account when a fellow officer made sure the CCTV footage of the beating was made public.

The offending officers were not charged.

The fellow officer was.

Ultimately, the officers were not charged because the victim did not press charges. His decision not to press charges coincided with his receipt of a sum of money, ‘a confidential settlement‘, from the Queensland Police Service.

Meanwhile, the whistleblower, Rick Flori, was charged with ‘misconduct in a public office’.

His colleagues repeatedly crack the head of a restrained man against a concrete floor and actually receive promotion. He reports their crime and looks set to face seven years in prison.

It would be funny if it weren’t so irrevocably obscene.

The case is ongoing. There is also a review. Newly elected police union representative Phil Notaro has backed the review but is keen to point out…

They’re not saying there’s anything wrong. They’re just trying to fine-tune the place because there has been some issues down the Gold Coast.

But he’s lying. There is something really fucking badly wrong.

Thankfully, obviously, magnificently, ordinary people are gathering together to help Rick Flori. Things are underway.

Supporters of policeman Rick Flori outside the Southport magistrates court on the Gold Coast, Wednesday, 15 July, 2015. Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP
Supporters of policeman Rick Flori outside the Southport magistrates court on the Gold Coast, Wednesday, 15 July, 2015. Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP


There is a Facebook campaign, and as well as pushing for a full pardon for Flori, the public group are encouraging nominations for Gold Coast Police Officer of the Year.

Screenshot 2015-09-06 16.36.15


The time difference informs me nominations have just closed, an hour and a half ago. So my nomination will go unread. Not to worry.

There is also a petition, the work of a minute or two at most if you happened to be keen to add your dissenting voice. Quicker with Autofill.

Maybe if you feel suitably consternated, you might like to spread the word. The more people know, after all, the more voices there are, and less likely that Rick Flori and people like him – honest people trapped in dishonest industries – can be silenced and punished for exposing ugly truths.

There’s a great quote but I can’t remember it. Something like: not only is it possible for individuals to affect great change, but, as it turns out, that’s the only way it ever comes about. The original quote is more elegant than that. But it’s pertinent in either incarnation.

Change is happening everywhere. And every little helps.




10 ‘Migrant Crisis’ Stories to Rekindle Your Faith in Humanity

It’s been a tough couple of weeks in terms of heart-rending news and I’ve noticed lots of people becoming overwhelmed by it all and – not really knowing how else to react – turning away from the bombardment of pain and switching off. Then photographs of Aylan Kurdi seemed to kickstart the old empathy for a lot of people, and while it’s clearly a shame that so many people need a photograph of a three-year-old boy face-down in the sea before they can muster up the humanity to care about such widespread suffering, well, at least they got there in the end.

Over the past couple of days, I’ve noticed a lot more positive stories are beginning to arise. The empathy is spreading – or maybe it’s just being reported more. With that in mind, I thought I’d collect some of those positive stories here. I find them all very moving, and at the heart of them there is hope. And hope is important. Also, if you want to question the motives of anyone choosing to help, please do it elsewhere. Thanks.


1. Refugees are welcomed and applauded at Westbahnhof Railway Station in Austria…

A heartwarming demonstration of between 20K to 30K people in Vienna welcomed refugees. Citizens rallied in protest of the inhumane treatment….



2. UK towns and cities offer their support…

Liverpool for one, who have offered to take in 100 refugees. A hundred may not seem that many, but every little helps. As Liverpool’s mayor Joe Anderson told Juice FM:

Other cities and other towns, if they did likewise that would certainly help the situation. It’s not gonna make the situation go away… I’m not suggesting for one minute that what we do, or what this country does, is gonna end that particular crisis, but we’ve all got to accept our responsibility that we need to do something….

Here are a few pics from Facebook of other groups that are springing up…


Screenshot 2015-09-05 11.49.53

Screenshot 2015-09-05 11.55.32

Screenshot 2015-09-05 11.55.50


And a few minutes ago the BBC reported that 40 UK councils have offered their support.


3. Every little helps. Back in Liverpool, even Tesco are chipping in…

This wonderful little story courtesy of Adam Kelwick.
Screenshot 2015-09-05 10.00.35



4. ‘Too many’ donations in Germany…

Screenshot 2015-09-05 10.03.43

Full story here.


5. Millionaires who care…

Louisiana entrepreneur Christopher Catrambone and his wife Regina spent £8m on a rescue boat, which as we speak, they are putting to incredible use. In-depth report here. More here.

Screenshot 2015-09-05 10.20.19

Another millionaire not unaccustomed to putting his money where his wonderfully dirty mouth is is Bob Geldof. Here he is pledging to give a home to refugees and calling out the (fucking) government into the bargain.


6. Calaid, the Worldwide Tribe and Jaz O’Hara…

As far as I can tell (not that it matters), Calaid was the first grassroots campaigning group to form in response to the crisis at Calais, and they continue to do ever more sterling work, coordinating efforts and providing a hub for a great many different groups. Closely connected to Calaid is the Worldwide Tribe and documentary maker Jaz O’Hara. You can read Jaz’s experience here, and if you haven’t already, you really should.


You can help the documentary get made by pledging to the Kickstarter campaign.


7. Ordinary Britons get their hands dirty…

‘Who are the Britons?’ ‘We all are. We are all Britons.’ Quite. Excellent Guardian compendium of ordinary folk moved to action.



8. Lawyers donate billable hours…

Lawyers have a bad reputation. They’re paid too much for doing bugger all and at the heart of it, unless they’re doing pro bono work, they probably couldn’t give a toss for anyone but themselves. Right? Am I right? Well, turns out, maybe not. Check it

Screenshot 2015-09-05 12.50.53


9. Stories of everyday heroes helping Syrian refugees…

This is a slightly older story but I just discovered it today and there are some wonderful tales of ordinary people going above and beyond. The Guardian article here was basically culled from this Facebook page here. Either are worth a look.



10. Why Mum’s gone to Iceland…

Screenshot 2015-09-05 12.57.40

In an open letter to the country’s welfare minister, Icelandic author Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir wrote of the refugees:

They are our future spouses, best friends, the next soul mate, a drummer for our children’s band, the next colleague, Miss Iceland in 2022, the carpenter who finally finishes the bathroom, the cook in the cafeteria, a fireman and television host. People of whom we’ll never be able to say in the future: “Your life is worth less than my life.”

Full story here.

So you see? We’re not all terrified people peddling distrust and fear of ‘the other’, or even in some cases urging violence. On the contrary, I am firmly of the belief that there are more human beings whose instinct when they see a fellow human being suffering is to care and to extend warmth and love.

Feel free to let me know of any other positive stories to arise out of this otherwise horrific situation in the comments. I’d be very grateful.


Keep hope alive!


Reza Aslan :: Battling Ignorance, Reclaiming God

There was a brilliant interview with Reza Aslan, the professor, historian, author and humiliator of the ignorant, in Playboy magazine a couple of months ago. You can read it here.

You may know Reza Aslan from his appearance on CNN last year, in which he addresses the ill-informed bias of his interviewees with implacable cool and such jaw-dropping eloquence that it’s an absolute treat to watch…


Then there’s his appearance on Fox News, when ‘Chief Religion Correspondent’ Lauren Green questioned his right to write a book about the historical life of Christ when he was, you know, a heretic…


Even more bewildering is Fox’s response to the interview, applauding Lauren Green’s journalistic integrity.

After watching the interview with CNN, I must confess that I found myself wondering how someone so rational and clear-thinking and clearly brilliant could genuinely declare himself an adherent of any theistic religion. Which is a clear reflection of my own bias, of course. That bias is referenced at the start of the Playboy interview…

Screenshot 2015-09-02 15.28.53

I’m in that camp. I wanted him to denounce religious belief as irrational and illogical. Further into the interview, he explains a little more about his faith…

Screenshot 2015-09-02 15.36.29

So Islam for Aslan is just a framework in which to exercise his faith. And you’ve gotta have faith, in some form or other – some belief that life is more than just you, otherwise, well, you barely exist. And if we accept – and I think we do – that this God that Aslan speaks of experiencing is not merely a man in the sky or indeed any kind of singular entity anywhere, but rather the whole of life, combined and accumulated, everywhere and always, including – obviously – every other human being that’s ever lived and ever will, then everything begins to make sense again.



Here’s Tom with the weather.


Wild Cats

I’ve been writing something about the cats that hang around in Peckham. There’s a colony of 12-15,  mostly feral, not far from where I’m staying. I’ve been finding out about them. And taking a couple of photos. Look.

Standing guard in front of one of the makeshift shelters erected by local cat-lovers.

cat in a crate
Relaxing, or plotting, in another shelter.

fat cat
One problem the cats face is overfeeding at the hands of well-meaning locals. Look at the size of this one! It’s only six weeks old!

I’ve been talking to the lovely people at the Celia Hammond Animal Trust too. They look after the cats, all the cats, as many cats as they can, making sure they’re all neutered and healthy.

Here’s one – sorry, two – of the hundreds currently waiting to be homed in their Lewisham branch…

'Love me.'
‘Love me.’

If I had a home, I would fill it with cats.

One From the Heart

Screenshot 2015-08-18 12.15.03

This young woman’s name is Jae West. The story of why she took off most of her clothes and stood blindfolded in Piccadilly Circus last week is told here.

Here is an excerpt:

Body image and self-acceptance is something that I have always been passionate about endorsing after experiencing an eating disorder myself through high school and my early 20’s … One night I was watching Amanda Palmer’s TED talk ‘The Art of Asking’ and was truly inspired by her vulnerability and courage. She described how she had stripped naked to allow her fans to draw and write anything they wanted on her.

That night as I was going to bed, the idea of linking the vulnerability of nudity with self-esteem issues in a public setting came to mind. Just the thought of looking down at my body and seeing it covered in love hearts from other people brought tears to my eyes.

Mine too. Here is the video:


Many of the comments beneath the YouTube video show quite clearly that a lot of people don’t get it. They show that a lot of people are so terrified of being open about their own fears and anxieties that they become wholly overpowered and transformed by them. They show a lot of apparently self-centred, shortsighted, cynical, hateful people, properly overwhelmed by their own venom. Sometimes I think I really oughtn’t read YouTube comments. But then I think it’s probably good to know what we’re up against. And it’s good to eventually rise above the sadness they create.

There you go.

I’ve risen above it.

I find the film very moving. I guess it’s a combination of the young woman’s vulnerability – highlighting everyone’s vulnerability – and the reaction of the public to that vulnerability. Really, it’s all about love. As she puts it herself:

If everyone could know and appreciate how beautiful they are from childhood, I think this world would be a very different place.

There it is. Everybody is beautiful. Inside and out.



Political Correctness Gone Marvellous

In June, two 9-year-old American kids sent a letter to the chairman of Walt Disney Parks complaining about some of the potentially damaging stereotypes they encountered at Disneyland and Disneyworld.

Here is an excerpt:

Like most people we love your attractions, but we found some problems with some of them and those problems are stereotypes … We are third graders from New York City at The Cathedral School. We learn about stereotypes, and the impact they have on people’s identities. For instance, in the jungle cruise, all the robotic people have dark skin and are throwing spears at you. We think this reinforces some negative associations, we think you should replace them with monkeys throwing rotten fruit.

I can imagine that a lot of people reading this letter might feel quite upset by it. I can imagine them shaking their heads and muttering darkly about the scourge of political correctness sticking its beak into all areas of society and stirring things up where they don’t need stirring. If they’re American themselves, they might also mention – whilst huffing and puffing in genuine disgust – something about goddamn liberals or whining SJWs or even the creeping pussification of America. This is because in America, a seemingly large and rather angry percentage of the population are frightened by ideas based on liberty, equality and social justice.

This was never more clearly and hilariously illustrated than last week when US department store Target announced that they would be phasing out some of the more unnecessary gender-based signs in their stores. This was primarily in response to the popularity of this tweet:

Screenshot 2015-08-17 12.49.48

Facebook user Mike Melgaard saw Target’s announcement and, knowing how terribly afraid many American conservatives are, intuited that there might be something of a backlash. When that backlash began to manifest itself on Target’s Facebook page, he decided to pose as a representative of Target, setting up a fake customer service account and responding accordingly. The full story is here, and it’s wonderful.

Here are two of my personal favourites from his 16-hour reign of hilarity…



Hats off to Mike Melgaard!

Hats off also to Sybilla and Dexter, who wrote this to Disney but have yet to receive a reply:



And while we’re about it, if we’ve any hats left, let’s take them off to Stewart Lee, who here totally nails the whole debate in just two minutes…





The War on Consciousness

I’ve just watched and been pretty much blown away by this TED talk given by a man called Graham Hancock. It was recommended to me by a man called Gary. Gary was one of my fellow meditators at the Vipassana retreat I attended recently. When we were allowed to talk on the 10th day, I fell into conversation with Gary about the ayahuasca retreat he’d been on in the Peruvian rainforests. I had forgotten the very little I already knew about ayahuasca and after listening to his fascinating experience, determined to have one of my own. He recommended I look up a guy called Graham Hancock. I just got round to it this morning.

The talk below is extraordinary. It includes lots and lots of things I didn’t know, all of which tend to support the things I did know or at least fervently believe. Here is an excerpt:

We hate visionary states in this society. In our society, if we want to insult somebody, we call them a dreamer. In ancient societies that was praise. And we have erected huge apparatuses of armed bureaucracies who will invade our privacy, who will break down our doors, who will arrest us, who will send us to prison, sometimes for years, for possessing even small quantities of psilocybin or substances like DMT, whether in its smokeable form or in the ayahuasca brew, and yet ironically DMT is – we now know – a natural brain hormone. We all have it in our bodies and it’s just that its function remains unknown for lack of research.

And it’s not as though our society is opposed in principle to altered states of consciousness. I mean billions are being made by the unholy alliance of psychiatrists and big pharma in over-prescribing drugs to control so-called syndromes like depression, or attention deficit disorder in teenagers. And we have a love affair in our society with alcohol. We glorify this most boring of drugs despite the terrible consequences that it often has. And of course we love our stimulants: our tea, our coffee, our energy drinks, our sugar, and huge industries are built around these substances, which are valued because of the way they alter consciousness.

But what all these approved altered states of consciousness have in common is that none of them contradict or conflict with the basic state of consciousness valued by our society, which I would call “the alert problem-solving state of consciousness”, which is good for the more mundane aspects of science. It’s good for the prosecution of warfare, it’s good for commerce, it’s good for politics, but I think everybody realises that the promise of a society over-monopolistically based upon of this state of consciousness has proved hollow. And that this model is no longer working. That it’s broken in every possible sense that a model can be broken. And urgently we need to find something to replace it.

The vast problems of global pollution that have resulted from the single-minded pursuit of profit, the horrors of a nuclear proliferation, the spectre of hunger that millions every night go to bed starving. And we can’t even solve this problem despite our alert problem-solving state of consciousness. And look what’s happening in the Amazon – the lungs of our planet, this precious home of biodiversity – the old growth rainforest being cut down and replaced with soya bean farms so we can feed cattle so that we can all eat hamburgers. Only a truly insane global state of consciousness could allow such an abomination to occur … We can spend countless billions on warfare, on hatred, on fear, on suspicion, on division, but we can’t get together the collective effort to save the lungs of our planet.

And this is perhaps why shamans from the Amazon are now mounting a kind of reverse missionary activity. When I’ve asked shamans about the sickness of the West, they say it’s quite simple: “You guys have severed your connection with spirit. Unless you reconnect with spirit and do so soon, you’re going to bring the whole house of cards down around your heads and ours.” And rightly or wrongly they believe that ayahuasca is the remedy for that sickness.

What’s even more interesting about all this is that this particular TED talk was subsequently removed from the TED website. There is an enormous debate detailed here, which I hope to make the time to read soon, but the upshot is that TED felt that Hancock’s talk ‘was not rooted in proper scientific study’ (Nate Mook, TED). Although the conversation on that page is closed, the debate continues to rage, with Hancock and his advocates expressing concern that the reason his talk is not featured on TED’s website is more to do with the fact that it challenges mainstream thinking.

Bearing all this in mind, the final paragraph of his talk is particularly ironic.

And I stand here invoking the hard won right of freedom of speech to call for and demand another right to be recognised, and that is the right of adult sovereignty over consciousness. There’s a war on consciousness in our society and if we, as adults, are not allowed to make sovereign decisions about what to experience with our own consciousness while doing no harm to others, including the decision to use responsibly ancient and sacred visionary plants, then we cannot claim to be free in any way. And it’s useless for our society to go around the world imposing our form of democracy on others while we nourish this rot at the heart of society and we do not allow individual freedom over consciousness. It may even be that we are denying ourselves the next vital step in our own evolution by allowing this state of affairs to continue, and who knows, perhaps our immortal destiny as well.

Anyway, here’s the talk.


Now I’ve got to get on and make some money. Airfare to Peru is fucking expensive.