Category Archives: Reflection

What makes us human?

Sunday 21st September 2014

Sea Day – What makes us human?


I have been listening with great interest to a show on BBC Radio 2, and one of the ongoing topics of discussion has provoked some intense thoughts and feelings of my own. The host has invited some of the great and good of our society to outline their thoughts on the subject of what makes us human, to give us the listener some insight into the way these different individuals, with varied experience of our world, think about what make us the very unique and extremely complex people we undoubtedly are. I have become captivated by the discussion and feel somewhat compelled to express my own ideas.

So for me…………what makes us human?

Today, surrounded by the vast Atlantic Ocean, an insignificant speck in this wonderful miracle we all inhabit,  I thought I’d be serious for once………

It is certainly very easy to state all the different individual characteristics which make each of us good and honourable citizens of the world, or good humans if you prefer. Compassion, generosity, patience, tolerance, perseverance, these are all positive and admirable traits which allow us to be welcomed into society with open arms and held high as role models, encouraging others to follow in our footsteps and take up these preferred and highly acceptable characteristics.

But I’m assuming this topic of discussion is more about what collectively sets us aside from any other life form rather than just identifying the desirable attributes we should all adopt to make this world a better place to live and thus create a more human society.

What really makes mankind different, what drives us as a species, what wholly separates us from the animals?

It is certainly a fact that some of the positive individual traits I have already mentioned can be seen demonstrated to varying degrees by many of the creatures we share this amazing planet with, but no one would ever consider them to be human. It would also be fair to say there are many of our fellow homosapians who possess few if any good characteristics and in fact regularly demonstrate negative attributes like cruelty, dishonesty and intolerance which are considered wholly undesirable and antisocial. But does this make them any less a human??

Now I’m not a religious person, which doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God or consider that maybe there is a higher being in charge of all of this, and it is said in the bible that God created man in his own image. Now I’m sure the theologians will give many varied interpretations of this statement, but mainly it is believed to mean we have been given freewill to make our own choices. We are also gifted with insight and judgment, which enables us to consider the potential consequences to our decisions, and armed with this knowledge many may still choose to do the right thing for the greater good for all, even at great personal cost. So does this answer the question of what makes us human as no animal would ever do this, as all animals act instinctively in their own individual interest? Well that could be part of the answer but for me there is more to it than that.

Personally I think it is our creativity that makes us human, we haven’t just evolved physically through procreation, we have survived as a species and evolved quicker than our friends the animals because we have successfully developed our natural ability to imagine, design and create. The skill and knowledge acquired over the centuries is used to improve the things we already have and give us an ability to invent and develop anything we need to make our existence considerable better. This doesn’t just include the physical things that have helped us to progress, like machinery, electricity and medicines, but also extends to the concepts, ideas, systems and theories which develop our personalities and attitudes.

Although mankind can’t take any of the credit for creating God, there have been many different religions and cultures put in place by man to answer a need. They were developed to give us ethics and moral guidance, comfort in time of need, plausible explanations to our desire to understand about how we came to exist and the meaning of life. Religion and culture created and bonded the early communities and gave the local citizens support, but best of all religion offered its faithful disciples a promise of a continuation of life beyond their physical existence. Culture like humans has evolved to keep relevance with time, constantly developing all but the basic core values in order to meet the ever changing needs of the people, and so it gives a purpose and identity, with or without a god.

Government was created to give us rules, enhance social structure, protect and nurture its citizens and develop the means for countries to grow and prosper.

Technology not only gives us a more efficient way to make things, travel and communicate, but  literally assists us to live longer healthier and happier lives.

And all of this has been created by humans, but why?

The answer for me is very simple, it gives us the one thing we all crave and desire, the one thing that drives our every waking moment, keeps us going through this life at an unbelievable pace, we create to give us HOPE.

Not the negative and selfish ‘I want it all’ type hope, although that exists today more than ever, but the simple hope that just wants everything to be a little bit better for everybody.

A hope for a better future, for peace, an ability to cure disease and eliminate suffering, to prolong our useful life, maintaining a state of happiness and enjoyment. Our biggest hope is probably the desire for an extension of being beyond this physical existence and the knowledge we will participate in an eternity of continuing wonderful experiences.

Hope unites us in a way that nothing else can. It crosses all cultural barriers and standardises every religion. It drives us to invest unquantifiable time and resources into the technology and research in the quest for more answers. Hope gives life a meaning and a purpose, and yet for each of us hope is as simple as it is different, and tomorrow it can all change.

From great thinkers to reward winning directors, dedicated religious and community leaders to world renown rock legends, from the rich and famous to an average nobody like me, hope drives us, inspires us and gives us the strength to face whatever life may throw at us.

‘What makes us human?” for me it’s our endless search for Hope and the optimistic comfort it delivers…………..and yet it promises nothing.

Start the Ship – we’re on our way

2nd September 2014

Embarkation day (yesterday) was mainly good fun and trouble free. We’ve used ACP this time for parking and it was easy to find and only a short minibus ride from the terminal (there’s definitely something quite worrying about setting off from a location called terminal!)
When we arrived at the City Terminal our minibus stopped briefly at the side of the building where a group of jolly stevedores took our cases and carried them carefully to the loading area whilst whistling a happy tune, after all luggage football is never played in full sight of the customer. But in some ways I wish it was because when I’m finally reunited with my cases I really would like to be able to put a face to the bastard who managed to tenderise a brand new Samsonite into something resembling minced liver.
Security involved the usual hectic process of suspicious scrutiny by a group well trained in the art of intimidation. The lady in charge of loading up the scanner belt scowled and sniffed in utter disdain as we approached. We duly deposited all our worldly goods and dignity into her grey plastic tray and she watched me intently for any obvious tell tale signs of deceit as I removed my belt and shoes.
“Have you anything else in your pockets?”
“No,” I reply.
“Are you sure?”
I pat my pockets with gusto, “No, nothing there,” I announce with a smile.
“No keys?”
“No…….there’s nothing left in my pockets.”
“No loose change?”
“No…….there’s nothing left in my pockets.”
“No…….as I said there’s nothing left in my pockets.” I think at this point my smile was beginning to fade.
“You still have a hand in your pocket so I thought you were checking for something. Are you wearing a belt?” she asks even though she’d watched me remove it not ten seconds ago. Maybe next time I should do it to music……….
“No I’m not. That’s why I still have my hand in my pocket, it stops my jeans falling around my ankles.”
“So there’s nothing in that pocket?”
“How about the other one?”
“There’s nothing.”
“Have you remembered to empty your back pockets…..wallet? comb?”
“Is that no you hadn’t remembered or….?”
“There’s nothing in my pockets.”
“Then please proceed through the scanner sir,” she said with a sarcastic grin, I started to walk away but I’m sure she was still unconvinced about the emptiness of my pockets.
“Just have one final check before you go through please sir,” she called after me, “Otherwise you might be delayed getting onto the ship.”
I’m suddenly aware that one poor guy was being led away to a private room by two burly bruisers intent on discovering the reason he’d somehow managed to make their mystical arch machiney thingy beep. He too must have been convinced his pockets were empty I thought, so like an idiot I stopped and obediently went through my pockets again…..just to be sure.
I’m convinced it won’t be long before they have us all stripped down to our underwear to ensure we’re not trying to sneak (love that word) anything remotely illicit aboard. But I have to ask how much contraband could you hide in the framework of a wheel chair or the battery compartment of a motability scooter? They meticulously inspect and x-ray the heels of our shoes and yet poor old Ethel, who is unfortunately confined to a wheelchair, is automatically waved through as if it would be deemed highly unprofessional to even consider a lady in her position could be a potential smuggler or worse.
Anyway, it’s done and we finally make it onto Balmoral and head straight for our accommodation. 9093 is a large inside cabin and although it shows a fair bit of wear and tear it’s clean and smells pleasant. Later on we’ll discover it’s also in a very quiet area of the ship. The bed is comfy, the bathroom huge, so what more can we want? Oh yes, we want biscuits of course……..but where are they?
CUTBACKS – they seem to affect everything. We last cruised with Freddie in 2011 (in fact that was our only previous cruise with FOCL) On that occasion there was a small organza bag with toiletries, but not this time. It’ll be interesting to see if there are any more ‘savings’ being made here like the ones we’ve noticed recently on P&O. Yes it’s only little things but then don’t they say it’s the little things that make it special? I’ll keep you informed.

So we’re off, with a wish for nothing more than a trouble free time over the next five weeks and a slight hope that we find at least one couple we can get along with (oh and good weather, nice food, black squirrels, nice food, beer and maybe some NICE FOOD)
And so to our table……..

With each and every sailing fresh faces would appear,
Would they all be happy? Would they all drink beer?
Would they be a nice crowd up to have some fun?
Or would they all be nutters into fighting – throwing buns?
With first night nerves all tingling, wondering who they soon would meet,
Jim and Cheryl hand in hand set off to find their seat.
(excerpt from the Ballad of Table 37, J.A.G. Nov 12)

This time we’re on a table for 8 and its number 106. Our fellow travellers appear to be a friendly bunch and quite good fun. Two couples know each other from previous Cruise Encounters (of the third kind) They are all ‘Gold Members’ and well seasoned FOCL travellers….and are definitely going to be the life and soul of the party 
The food was just as we remember it, not overly generous in quantity but nicely prepared and tasty (especially the soup) Our table waiters are exceptionally attentive, probably because they appear to know the previously mentioned table companions fairly well.
So all bodes well and finally to bed, perchance to dream of……..……let’s say whales, and lobster lunches and endless walks in the cool fresh air of a glorious Canadian autumn.
Yes that’ll do nicely (donkey) 

Thought for Today………

 I worry that I’m starting to forget things

So a drink helps me forget to worry about it

Thought for Today……….


Elephant in Norway?


Photograph was taken in Hollandsfjord Norway and is original with no alterations.


If something’s worth doing……..Someone is bound to form a committee.

Is the customer always right?

When I was fourteen I had a Saturday job working at my uncle’s chemist shop in the middle of the town of Halesowen. There was a plaque on the wall in the dispensary which stated,

‘The customer is always right’
(Often confused and misguided, but always right)

I suppose it would be true to say that as a young teenager back in the early seventies I didn’t really understand the concise message this little gem of wisdom was attempting to convey, and the same could probably be said for my older, wiser and much more experienced fellow workers.
But why I hear you ask?
Because in general, the British public never used to complain, well……..rarely complained.
Back then this sign was just a parody, a bit of fun (at the customer’s expense of course) but no one really took these wise words too seriously, least of all the customer.
If any punter actually managed to drum up sufficient courage to stutter an objection about some wrongdoing carried out against them, then more often than not the protest would quickly fizzle out and turn into a humble apology from the very same person who ‘didn’t wish to be a nuisance or cause any trouble’.

I have a clear memory of an event that occurred many years ago when my two older brothers and I were dining out with our parents. We were at a Chinese restaurant in Birmingham, a place we would go to as a family maybe once a month to mark something ‘special’ and on this particular occasion we were celebrating my Father’s birthday. Laughter and merriment were the order of the day and everyone was understandably happy.
The starter platter with a heaped mixture of spring rolls, prawn toast and spare ribs kicked off proceeding, and for a while things went quiet, except for the sound of chomping, as everyone busied themselves to the task of eating their share before someone else with an insatiable appetite pinched it all.
During the chicken and sweet corn soup phase things relaxed a little as each person now had their own portion delivered in individual bowls, so the jovial chatter intensified and the mood became buoyant.
When the time came for the main course one element of the meal (the chicken chop suey I think) wasn’t delivered to the table at the same time as the rest of the many flavoursome dishes, an oversight which we as a family also failed to noticed as we were too busy shovelling as much onto our own plates as possible before a certain older brother snaffled the lot.
So when the missing delicacy finally arrived most of the lavish banquet had already been scoffed, with only a few grains of fried rice and a handful of disliked and discarded green peppers remaining. This, in my Mother’s opinion, was totally unacceptable and she had wanted to call the waiter over to express her displeasure, but my father wouldn’t let her.
“Please don’t make a fuss,” he’d said.
“But we can’t eat it on its own and it’s spoilt the evening now,” Mom had replied, “I’m sure if we forgot to put out the sandwiches or cakes at a wedding reception there would be all hell to pay.”
I must explain at this point that my parents ran a retail catering business specialising in home-made cakes and savouries, which they produced in large amounts as they catered for many different outside functions.
“Why has the late arrival of one dish ruined the entire meal?” my father asked her, “Until the waiter bought it over just now we didn’t even realise it was missing and yet we were still having such a great time.”
“But it’s the principle,” Mom protested.
“Well there was plenty to eat and I don’t think it’s fair to be unkind to the waiter just to make an issue of one small mistake, it might not even have been his fault. Everything else was fine so please……..let’s just leave it at that.”

Normally my father was quite a brusque man, but on this occasion he took the time to consider the feelings of someone whose sole purpose in his job was to ensure we were having an enjoyable evening, and the truth was in all but a small issue he had succeeded. That single demonstration of my Dad’s thoughtful attitude towards another person was probably the main influence on the way I now react when things don’t go quite to plan and for me clearly demonstrates how attitudes have drastically changed over the years.

And I get to thinking……………………
Nowadays there is an ever increasing culture of complaining and mainly it’s about trivial matters. There is too much consideration of self and rarely a thought for the feelings of others, we are becoming a very egocentric society (if we’re not there already)
Let me give an example.
We’re currently staying in a hotel on the west coast of Kintyre. It is an incredible location with stunning sea views and large and clean comfy rooms. There is a good choice at breakfast and the food here is generally well cooked. It has a nice bar, not too noisy, reasonable prices and the staff are friendly and helpful. Now it’s fair to say they’ve had a few problems with the boiler and for several hours each day there has been no hot water supply to the bedrooms. So far there has been plenty of hot water in the mornings and again in the evenings, but nothing in between.
Yes, it’s been an inconvenience, but I would consider it a minor irritation rather than a major catastrophe and it hasn’t detracted from the many positive attributes of this venue.
However it would appear that we are in a minority, and to our knowledge at least three couples have created a few new mountains out of molehills.
One lady stood in reception and flatly refused to pay for her room as the lack of hot water was a complete travesty and had completely ruined her stay (wow, talk about spreading it thickly
Yet she had still taken advantage of the room, slept in the comfy warm bed and, I assume, partaken of the refreshments provided therein.
The manager had offered multiple apologises and agreed to her demands, without a single quibble. The lady obviously wasn’t listening to him because she kept going, her only intent was to have a damn good whinge, why? because she could and he wasn’t going to argue back.
Amazingly the drama didn’t stop there as the lady, and her partner, headed straight to the dining room to order a full Scottish breakfast each, and then proceeded to empty the buffet table of most of the fresh fruit………..Priceless……….literally priceless.
Now I’m not saying that she didn’t have a case for some form of compensation for the inconvenience she had experienced, but I do think she demonstrated a totally selfish attitude with no consideration for the consequences of her demands.
Ultimately she and her partner cost the hotel money to accommodate and feed them and the manager will probably get some backlash from the owners as to why takings are down. (It may even affect his position in some way or even cost someone their job)
Unfortunately, in the hospitality industry the die is so heavily weighted in favour of the client because of the massive influence of the availability of online reviews and owners are somewhat forced to kowtow to even the most unreasonable demands (but that’s a topic for another day)

There can be no doubt that over the years the British have learnt to complain, but for me there is a vast cavern of unacceptability surrounding the majority of the trivial things folk constantly whine about. If there is a genuine reason to complain then do so but if a small issue occurs then maybe we should consider accepting that sometimes mistakes happen, after all we are human and we all make mistakes.
We should at least be honest and not dramatise the situation just to get our own way…………………or our money back.

Just watch it…………..

Earlier this year, on a very cold and breezy morning inside the Arctic Circle, I was standing on the snow covered bow deck of a cruise ship.
At 2 a.m. a call to my cabin had prompted me to dress in many warm layers of clothing and summoned me to this position overlooking the front of the boat. Under normal circumstances this message would probably have resulted in a certain degree of blind panic, but this was no dire emergency and we weren’t being required to don our life jackets and ‘Abandon Ship’ just yet.

So here I was at this ridiculous hour, waiting patiently, hardly able to move in the apparel cocoon I’d built around myself, my warm breath a white mist and my toes starting to tingle.

But I’m happy, expectant and excited. (see a man can multitask)

Hopefully I’m about to witness a spectacle, the main motivation for coming on this particular trip, the incredible and extremely illusive Northern Lights.

Understandably I’m not alone. The ship’s entertainment host has been keeping the entire company informed as to the possible occurrence and quality of the long awaited event. The signs are good and there is a palpable air of expectation among the waiting mass of well insulated, sleep deprived and in some cases (me) slightly inebriated passengers and crew.

Suddenly a distinctive mass of green light traces across the sky. It crinkles and tumbles like loose ribbons as it tracks along its pathway, then another a little brighter, and another.

I have worked in the theatre for many years but this was a light show to rival the best of the best, and as this audience marvelled at the amazing display the only thought in my head was stunning, truly stunning.

Then, totally unexpectedly, another phenomenon illuminates the assembled congregation.

The glow from several hundred camera screens suddenly cuts through the darkness to light up the entire area. With flashes going off in all directions and devices held high in an attempt to capture the unfolding atmospheric acrobatics the whole mood of the occasion changes.
Those with better equipment trying to take time-lapse images start shouting their frustrated abuse. Others, annoyed because their clear view has been ruined by so much light pollution, begin to tut and mutter. In the tightly assembled crowd tempers start to fray.

And I get to thinking……..

Today’s technology is all about allowing us all to have access to anything at anytime, information, communication and entertainment, but most importantly memory.
We require our devices to contain masses of storage space to ensure we can record and recall anything we need, but it has progressed from helping us to keep track of telephone numbers, addresses and diary type information to something more worrying in my very humble and obviously out-dated opinion.

The people around me on this evening seemed to be spending their time desperately trying to capture images showing the significant activity that was occurring, more time in fact than actually just watching and enjoying this ‘once in a lifetime moment’.
I wonder if we dilute an experience by our methodical efforts to confine any given remarkable spectacle to a record of a few million pixels, which will probably only get confined to the back of a drawer anyway.

With this kind of behaviour will we really be able to say that we’ve collected memories to last a lifetime……………or merely until the battery dies??


The eyes that I look through
Have seen so much
From the unmatchable beauty of each season
To the heartless acts of destructive man

These are the same eyes that saw
My first day at school
All those years ago, crying when left alone
Eyes blurred and reddened, confused

At twenty one they looked down the aisle
Toward the one
Whose eyes had caught my eye, captivated
To want to see her always

Clearer than a photo put away in a drawer
To be forgotten
My eyes hold the memory of seeing my children
Enter this world, and my mother leave

And as they focus they reveal what’s important
Everything they show
Affects the way I feel, and I shut my eyes tight
To see everything clearly again

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