How to slowly kill yourself and your children

[Appended 27 July 2008: On my stats I’ve noticed that people are arriving at this blogpost through search engines, using phrases like “how to kill yourself.” I have no idea how to give a complete stranger a reason to live in a single paragraph, but if you are thinking of committing suicide, what I can do is offer you an understanding, listening ear. So please, contact me. Nothing would make me happier than having opportunity to help someone.]

I have had a problem with being overweight my whole life. It was pretty bad when I was at school, until I finally had a moment of clarity at age sixteen (i.e. I had the hots for a particular girl and wanted to be in with a chance). I cut out lunches, bedtime suppers, and went cycling every day after school. It worked. Within a couple of months I was looking great, and I kept most of the weight off for several years. But I gradually started putting it on again, and although I never ended up with the same obesity as in my boyhood, I did end up with this annoying layer of flab around my middle. I’ve even made an effort to eat reasonably well in recent years, but I never managed to shift the blubber … until something came to a head in December 2007.

I started experiencing some bowel problems. That’s a lie. I’ve been having bowel problems for a few years. You know, soreness, minor bleeding, occasional constipation. Okay, if you need to, have a big horselaugh and get it over with, because I’ve actually got some important things to say here. It got to the point where I would hate the thought of going to the toilet. In December 2007 I decided: This can’t go on. What’s the first thought that comes into your head? “Go see the the doctor.” That might well be a big mistake (I’ll get back to that in a minute). What I did was a little internet research and I came across an interesting site called Wai Says. Some of the stuff on the site is radical, but I came across an interesting piece on how “Eat more fibre” is not the answer to constipation. This piqued my interest, because I had a very fibrous diet already and it wasn’t helping.

To cut a long story short, I learned that the old “Five portions of fruit or veg per day” is a misnomer. I was getting my five portions a day, but I was making it all veg, no fruit. When you think about it, fruit is completely different than vegetables, in terms of sugars, so how can the health profession make this blanket statement, lumping the two types of food together as if you can ignore the quantities in each? I’m convinced that lack of fruit sugars was a major factor in my constipation, and my overindulgence in vegetables (too much fibre) meant that my bowels were often trying to evaculate food too quickly, causing soreness and bleeding.

That’s not the whole story. I still liked my weekly (or twice a week) Chinese takeaways, full of who knows what in terms of artificial additives. I decided the only thing to do was to cut everything out and start off with “safe” foods – those proven to benefit the human body. Six months later, here’s how I eat …

Breakfast: Every morning I have toasted brown bread with butter and honey, a big tall glass of pure orange juice, and a slice of melon. I find this perks me up to the degree that I don’t even feel the need for a caffeine drink. In the beginning I was pining for a cup of tea and a big bowl of cereal, but these cravings vanished after a few days. I actually have a big problem with cereal. I think it was instrumental in me gaining weight in the past, and the processed nature of it responsible for some of my bowel issues. In any case, I find cereal completely unnecessary. Pure orange is great, and I go the extra mile to buy the “not from concentrate” variety.

Lunch: Sometimes I don’t bother. If I do, it’ll be a banana, crisps or nuts, or all of those. You might find it weird I mention crisps. Well, the only crisps I’ll eat are those hand-cooked Kettle Chips containing nothing artificial. Also, I don’t want you to get the idea that I’ve got this completely regimented eating schedule. I don’t. I just know what I can and can’t eat.

Dinner: Every evening I will have some kind of meat with my meal. I regularly buy fish (proper fish, like a Salmon steak straight from the meat counter at your supermarket, not some processed Fish Fingers), steak, and bacon. I never make chips, nor do I buy those oven chips (which are coated in fatty batter). Instead, I cut potatoes up into wedges, roll them in olive oil and cook them in the oven (a little herb is nice on ’em, too). I make three particular meals regularly: (1) salmon, pasta & salad; (2) steak, wedges, peas, mushrooms & onions; (3) bacon, egg, rice, mushrooms, onions. After dinner, I will often indulge in a cup of tea and some chocolate (the expensive organic 70% cocoa variety); I find it doesn’t do me any harm at all.

I’ll be the first to admit this is not the only way to eat, but it represents a pattern of eating that is the only way to eat, if you want to maintain your health. The pattern is this: Eat real food. Avoid all processed meats and as many artificial food additives as you reasonably can. When you’re at the butchers browsing the meats, did you ever look at the label under the sausages that says something like, “Actual meat content 75%”? What the hell is it that the rest of the sausage is made of! Do yourself a favour and buy an actual pork chop or something. You want to know a really delicious alternative to a humburger? Buy a tenderised minute steak (instead of a processed pattie; the meat will be tougher, but still brittle enough to bite), some tomato (as an alternative to ketchup), add lettuce, onion, cheese, and put in a bun. Delicious.

For a savoury snack, if you buy a packet of Kettle Chips crisps, you know you’re eating actual slices of potato cooked in sunflower oil. Look at the ingedients label on a packet of Pringles and you’ll see an unintelligible list of chemical substances that is frighteningly long. I noticed a Smarties television advert a while ago that said “No artificial colours.” This is the perfect example of the way companies will try to deceive the public into believing their product has a healthy side. Here’s how you tell. When a product says, “No artificial colours,” it means there are artificial flavours, otherwise they would proudly display “No artificial flavours or colours.” I see this all the time, and I steer clear of food like that. When you purchase candy for your child, do you realise you’re giving him nothing more than a lump of chemically enhanced refined sugar? Do you honestly believe that is beneficial? Do you suspect, as I do, that it might be harmful? Why not introduce him to a variety dried fruit snacks instead?

Here’s how common modern eating habits work. The crap is there being sold, so we buy it and eat it. And we find that it tastes nice. So we keep on doing it. And the detrimental effects don’t show themselves for years, until we suddenly realise we’ve turned into Ten-Tonne-Tessie, or we’re diabetic, or we’ve got bowel cancer, or who knows what else. A friend once said to me, “All things in moderation.” But to me, processed foods and artificial additives are more akin to slow-working poisons, and it would be crazy to subscribe to the idea of arsenic in moderation. One microgram won’t kill me, but don’t ask me to eat it anyway. I was at someone’s house a while ago (quite a rich family) and they asked me if I would like a glass of orange. I said, “Yes, please.” Then I watched them lift a big bottle of diluted “orange” from the cupboard, fill the bottom of my glass with this chemical substance, then top it up with water. And they handed this poison to me like it was normal. These are people with their heads in the sand, who (despite being rich) will save a few pennies by buying artificial orange juice that doesn’t even taste like orange, and think they’ve make a sensible choice. I let my guard down recently at a barbeque, where there was processed meats on offer. So I indulged, just this once. I paid the price the following day; my body, now re-sensitised to eating real food, almost felt like it was trying to tear me a new arsehole.

Am I an alarmist? I think I need to be. I’m no dietition, and I’ll be the first to admit there may be some innacuracies in this article, but if you still think there’s no link between cancer and food, you clearly haven’t been watching the news in recent years.

I no longer have bowel problems. And I’m glad I was able to sort my problem out without resorting to a doctor. Although I didn’t realise until recently how lucky an escape I may have had. I know of someone else who has bowel problems who did go to see a doctor. And the doctor prescribed a remedy. In other words, the doctor gives you something that allows you to keep on harming your body without noticeable ill effects (until it’s too late), and also helps keep the laxative industry running smoothly, as well as helping you grow dependent on an artificial means of keeping your body functioning normally. The last thing the health profession needs is to run out of sick people. It’s called treating the symptoms instead of the causes. Far be it from me to strike off all the good doctors in the world, but this is something to watch out for.

I could very easily have ended up sitting here today as overweight as I was in December, thanks to doctors. “Ah, you must have Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Here’s a prescription.” Instead, I’m 2.5 inches slimmer at the waist and feeling a darn sight better than I’ve felt for most of my life. And I did it without dieting. Dieting is fruitless because it’s temporary. I lost weight even though I’m eating chocolate regularly, for goodness sake! What I did was make a permanent lifestyle change – one that I’ve adjusted to completely and love, and one that will stand to me for the rest of my life. I have not only woken up to the dangers of unhealthy eating; I have lost any kind of craving for it. When you detoxify your body from all that crap, you learn that the foods God placed on this earth for our enjoyment are actually delicious.

The only downside to this healthier way of living is that it costs more. And to that, I reply with a simple, “So what.” Putting your health and your bank balance side by side on the scales strikes me as foolhardy in the extreme.

The dark side of Christianity

In the last few “Spirituality” posts, I asserted that we’re all being conditioned, by science, religion, media, culture, education. Science was the category that really came under the spotlight. So, in fairness, and to prove I’m as open-minded as I claim to be, this Christian is going to put his religion under the spotlight.

The first really bad piece of religious conditioning I encountered was an unfair attitude to sex. There I was, a horny seventeen-year-old, sitting in church, listening to a guest preacher say, “Young men, when you see an attractive girl walking down the street, and your eyes linger … turn your eyes away!” If I heard that from a pulpit today, I would stand up and walk out in defiance. It’s the worst example of an attitude that is taught by the church, to one degree or another. And what’s worse is, it’s not even in the Bible. It’s based on a misinterpretation of something spoken by Jesus:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-29)

What should be painfully obvious from the above passage is that Jesus is referring to married men who indulge in desire for other women. Notice it said “adultery,” not “fornication.” This is not applicable to boys and girls discovering their sexuality, nor is it applicable to any single person of any age. In a perfect world, what’s supposed to happen? We get our first ever erection on our marriage night? “Eek! What’s happening to me?” The idea is absurd. And yet ignorant preachers will carry on the age-old mission of driving this “sexuality is sinful” message home to the young. We end up with guilt-ridden teenagers who think they’re stuck with a horrible vice. It took a long time for me to realise I could look at a hot chick and think, “Phwoarrr!” without having to feel guilty.

Another issue: One of my pastor’s hobby-horses was the idea of “feelings orientation,” as he called it. When church life became uninspiring for me, and my attendance wavered, I would be accused of being “feelings oriented,” i.e. doing what I wanted to do instead of doing what I knew was right. So, believing myself to be “feelings oriented,” I would feel guilty about that and fix the immediate problem by being disciplined, i.e. attending church once again. It sounds like the problem is solved. But what you’re left with is an unhappy person, going through the motions of a spiritual life out of militaristic duty. And no one ever asks the really important underlying question: “Why is church no longer inspiring?” So the real problem gets neither noticed, addressed, nor fixed.

I should have perceived long before I did that this idea of “feelings orientation” is just some pop psychology that my pastor liked. I imbibed the idea that the “feelings” are not important. All that matters is duty. But then you end up feeling inadequate because you know you’re supposed to be joyful. And you can apply this accusation of “feelings orientation” to any problem that causes a church member to falter; you can make the problem instantly go away and turn them into obedient, guilt-driven robots once again. Cure any emotional problem by denying the importance of emotions. So, you can be a mess on the inside, but that’s apparently okay, as long as you’re going through the motions on the outside.

In more recent years, as someone who had now studied the Bible deeply, I grew sick of hearing error from the pulpit. One example: About a year ago, the pastor preached on the subject of the Sabbath, and it was terrible, conveying the idea that it was wrong to let your child play football on a Sunday. Only not just saying it outright – hinting at it in a subtle, manupulative way. Later, I heard another sermon by a younger member of the church about how “God is our friend.” When it was over, I realised I couldn’t take anything definitive away from it. It was an exercise in pretentiousness.

I was also disappointed by the distance between people in the church, or possibly the distance between them and me. Maybe it’s because I don’t belong to the shirt-and-tie brigade. Maybe it’s because I once turned agnostic, and when I came back they were never sure about me any longer. I can only guess. Maybe it’s just because I feel aloof from them because I see the poison under the surface of what’s being said and they don’t. All I know is, I don’t fit.

You might say, “Go find another church.” Been there, done that. I once wrote an article called “The Christian Book Minefield,” where I addressed the view that I think most Christian books are best avoided, because on a grand scale all those books together are a minefield of opposing and contradictory beliefs. Well, what is true of authors is surely true of preachers. We do, after all, have our Baptists, Reformed Baptists, Presbyterians, Reformed Presbyterians, Free Presbyterians, Methodists, Independent Methodists, Pentecostals, etc, etc. If only it were as trivial as choosing ice cream!

I know what my friend Chris would say. “Become a Roman Catholic.” 🙂 I’m not convinced about that, but I won’t close my mind to it, either. The anti-Catholic attitude possessed by Protestants is yet another example of closed-minded conditioned thinking. It’s only in recent years that I’ve been able to see things a little more clearly, and it’s actually pretty simple, if you’re prepared to step away from your rigid belief system and be open-minded. Think about this: Protestantism was founded sometime in the 1500s. But “The Church” has been around since the first century. And what does history tell us that Church was? Uh-oh. It was the Roman Catholic Church. So what are we Protestants saying – that God was without a true Church for over a millennium? Think about it the next time you feel the words “Roman Catholics aren’t true Christians” coming to your lips. Conditioning! Conditioning! Conditioning! Somebody wake me up!

I’m sure there are some reading this now who are thinking, “Gee, Darryl, if you believe all that, why are you still a Christian?” Because of the Bible. Because I have undeniably learned more insight about life from it than from anything else. So I’m a Christian, but I have abandoned organised religion. And I’ve decided, as of now, to stop feeling guilty about that.

If you are a Christian and you’re feeling a bit angry that I’ve got the audacity to speak out against aspects of our religion, then you need to wake up. Go watch Jesus Camp, then tell me that our religion can’t be hijacked and used as a tool for brainwashing of the young. I refuse to be afraid to wake up to reality, regardless of how much ammo I might be handing to the athiest opposition. If they want to look out from their rigid belief system and add this to their list of reasons not to believe in God, that’s up to them. They’ve got their own conditioning to wake up from, too.

My mind was recently opened up to how much I’ve been conditioned, by a certain writer who isn’t even a Christian. In fact, he is quite opposed to Christianity, and every religion, seeing them all as exercises in control of the many by the few. Nevertheless, what he’s saying in principle is right. We pretend we’re open-minded when we’re really thinking from inside a prison cell in our minds, seeking only to defend a rigid belief system and knock down an opposing argument, instead of being open to all possibility. I have actually been more inspired by this book than by any Christian literature I’ve read, period.

Who is this author? Well, he’s a famous British personality that 99% of the population once thought was completely off his rocker (and many still do). Have a listen. Are these the words of a madman? …

Pimp my (bicycle) ride!

It’s time to celebrate one full year of living a 100% car-free existence. Yes, it was May 2007 when I bought myself a new mountain bike and tossed my car-keys in the drawer. There’s no going back now. If I can live a full year like this, I should be able to do it forever – at least until such time as I acquire a girlfriend and have to think about things like dating and the transportation required therein. Well, if that happens, I can always jury-rig a side-car, or at least buy some BMX stunt-pegs that she can stand on behind me.

Meanwhile, look at these babies. Decided to splash out on a pair of mag wheels. Always wanted wheels like this, right back to when I was eleven years old when I found that Father Christmas had left me a Raleigh Ultra Burner instead of a Super Burner under the tree. I seem to be spending a worrying amount of attention on fulfilling childhood dreams lately, and perhaps a worrying amount of money. These wheels were not cheap. They cost me £200, and that’s second-hand on eBay. They’re the third pair I’ve watched; the others spiralled up to £250.

It’s rare to find mag wheels for mountain bikes. Due to their fragile nature (they shatter rather than bend as regular spokes do) they’re usually for racing bikes. But this is set isn’t made from some flimsy plastic; it’s carbon fibre, and available only in the US. Hopefully they’ll take any abuse my considerable bulk throws at them, and I won’t end up lying at the side of the road with a big shiny black carbon spoke protruding through my chest.

Breathtaking scenery near Ballycastle

Once in a while, here in Northern Ireland, you get a beautiful day that coincides with you being in a beautiful place away from the big towns and cities, and you are reminded of what a lovely country you live in. And if you’re lucky, you’ve brought your camera.

Before heading home from Ballycastle Film Festival on Sunday morning, we took a trip Torr Head and Murlough Bay, just a few miles outside the town. Thought I’d share …

If you’ve been watching our Film Club movies, you may notice a familiar-looking cliff face in the bottom-centre photo. Ballycastle’s just round the bend.

Cycling vs. driving – Part V

Abanding your car and choosing to do 100% of your travels by bicycle does wonders for your health, but not the health of your car (see photo). Back in December, when my car had been sitting in the driveway for a few months, I peered inside one day and noticed a few spots of mould growing on the seats and steering wheel. I promptly cleaned them off. During winter, I thought I would do the sensible thing and put my car away from the elements in the garage. I even put a few of those little silica gel packets along the dash to help prevent dampness. And I left it for three months. A few days ago, when I decided to bring the car back out into the sunlight, this is the present Father Time left me. Mould. Lots and lotsa mould.

Amazing what the lack of human companionship will do to a car. Well, when the apocalypse strikes and wipes out 99% of the human population, you won’t find me hotwiring many cars on my travels. Yeuch! Mad Max never had to put up with this.

Anyone want to buy a 1995 Nissan Terrano, real cheap? Actual vehicle featured in the famous Irish horror films Dark Light and Saul’s Pupils? No? … Oh.

My first accident on the new bicycle

Well, on Friday evening I had my first accident on the new mountain bike. I was heading into Andrew Harrison’s housing estate where there is a rather pointless roundabout with only two exits (Craigavon’s a bit like that). Since there was no traffic in sight, I decided to cut across the roundabout the wrong way, just to save ten seconds. When making a typical turn, a bike naturally tilts a little, and one’s centre of gravity goes off-centre. That was all it took for the bike’s wheels to lose their grip on the road … thanks to the ice. Normally, icy weather conditions are okay to cycle on, because so much car tyre rubber has already melted the ice. But thanks to this ridiculous roundabout design, I didn’t take into account that there was a small portion of the roundabout that never gets used. Hence, I fell roughly on the side of my pelvis. For a moment, I thought I had really badly injured myself, but I was fine – except for the pain, which, as you’d expect, was worse the following day. (It’s now six days later, and I still can’t sleep on my right side.)

This got me thinking about all the times I’ve fallen off bicycles in the past. There’s so much I have forgotten from my childhood, but I think I can remember every single crash; trauma is funny that way. For your amusement, here are some of the funnier moments (well, they’re funny now).

I was about nine years old, and my bike was the Raleigh Grifter. Who remembers those cool motobike-style handgrips with the twist action for changing gears? Asthetically, the Grifter was the predecessor to the BMX. But looks are where the resemblance ends. This was one heavy bike. Even though I was well aware of the limitations of this cumbersome beast, that didn’t stop me trying to show off to a couple of girls. There was a playpark near my house, with swings, climbing frames, and a big circular sandpit about thirty feet wide. The surface of the sand was at a depth of about two feet below ground level. While the girls were chatting on the monkeybars, I decided to ride my bike into the sandpit. I had done the leap successfully before. All you had to do was put the Grifter into a slight wheelie when you reached the edge of the pit. Despite the weight of the bike, this was doable … some of the time. This time, the bike went into a dive and threw me over the bars. I still remember the thud of my chest hitting the sand. As I got up and dusted myself off, I could hear giggling coming from the direction of the monkeybars. I picked up the bike and left the pit in defeat, feeling all my self-respect evaporating through my burning cheeks.

As a kid, I was never one for bike mantenance, and I had that old Grifter for many years. One day, it let me down big-time. I was cycling from the road onto the footpath at the entrance to the housing estate where I lived. As my back tyre bumped the kerb, the entire bike seemed to split into two or three pieces. It literally fell apart under me. At least, that’s the way I remembered it. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except there was a bunch of teenagers enjoying an afternoon booze-up on a nearby lawn. How they laughed at me! How they mocked me! The worst thing was I couldn’t just walk away. Somehow I had to get my bike home. So I half carried and half dragged the remains of my Grifter along the footpath, forced to move at a snail’s pace, enduring a continual verbal barrage for many minutes until I was finally out of sight.

When I was about eleven, the BMX craze was just beginning, and I became the proud owner of a Raleigh Ultra Burner. Since the bike was lightweight, I naturally tried to do various stunts on it. I don’t remember how many seats I broke, abusing that bike. My least fond memory is of doing a short race with friends down a housing estate. My brakes weren’t functioning at the time, and I should have known it was foolish to race with no brakes. Especially when there’s a big house facing you at the end of the road. By the time the house was looming I realised it was too late to stop, or even to turn. There was no garden at this house. Nothing but a footpath running perpendicular to my approach. For a moment, I had the crazy notion that if I held the front of the bike to the ground, the impact on the kerb would propel me over the handlebars, so that I would land on the footpath instead of crashing into the wall. It didn’t work (and maybe that was a good thing). My momentum was too great, probably around twenty miles per hour. The bike continued onto the footpath; the front wheel struck the house; the bike went into an “endo” (one of my favourite stunts in more controlled circumstances); my jaw struck the wall hard. Finally at rest, I reached up to touch my jaw. It felt numb. My fingers came away covered in blood and small white pebble-like things. My teeth! I thought. Thankfully, it turned out to be nothing more than the pebble-dash from the wall. Pebble-dash is pretty resilient stuff. You get an idea how great this impact was when I end up with the pebbles sticking to my face instead of the house. The scars from the accident aren’t too noticeable. It just bugs me now that I’m into beards, because there’s a little piece of my jaw where hair will no longer grow, right where the moustache joins the beard on my right hand side.

There were many more accidents. I remember our labrador knocking me off the bike. Another occasion, my foot slipped off a pedal when I was pumping hard, resulting in me sliding down the road on my back with the bike wrapped around me; my sweater was shredded. I remember losing control of my BMX in mid-air whilst jumping. I remember trying to cycle down a steep ice-coated road, and I ended up “skiing” the whole way down on two wheels and one foot, like some ridiculous tripod. I remember doing a massive arc of a skid, when the bike suddenly found grip again and flipped me off itself. I remember colliding with another cyclist around a blind corner and wrecking his brand-new bike. Amazingly, I’ve never broken a bone.

On the one hand, there are all these bicycle accidents. On the other, I’ve never had a car accident. Wonder what will happen if I buy a motorcycle? The speed of a car combined with the flimsy protection of a bicycle. Not a great combination. But still, I might get one anyway.

Cycling vs. driving – Part IV

It’s official: my car is gone. Well, it’s still in my driveway, but it’s untaxed and the MOT test is long overdue. And I’ve just noticed there are spots of mould growing on the steering wheel. Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve driven it or anything else on four wheels. For at least three months now, I’ve been using my bicycle for 100% of my travels. Long-time readers will know that I’ve been working my way toward this arrangement for a year or two – ever since this post. I like what this change in lifestyle has done for me, not only physically but psychologically. Last winter, the thought of cycling to work in the morning was unbearable. Now, I simply put on my gloves and grab the bike without a second thought. There’s something to be said for embracing a state of mind that isn’t constantly seeking the greatest personal comfort every moment.

The bike has held up pretty well for the six months I’ve owned it, except for a couple of minor quibbles. The pedals (something you rarely have to think about replacing) were useless. The plastic on both of them broke in half after only two months; of course, I am over seventeen stone in weight, but still. I replaced the pedals with a pair of mean-looking bear-trap-style metal ones from my old bike. More recently, my brakes started working poorly. In my usual lazy manner, I let it slide, until one morning a car decided to reverse out of a driveway while I was cruising down a hill towards it. I couldn’t stop, but I could veer. But the moron’s windows were all misted up, and he just kept coming. I was literally one or two inches from having an accident – the closest I’ve ever been. That experience was enough to make me check the brake pads. I discovered they were worn right down to the metal. Naturally, I’ve now got new ones fitted now. Once bitten, as they say.

At this time of year, it’s pretty dark while I’m pedalling to work at 8.15, likewise when I’m heading home at 4.15. In my usual lazy manner, I’ve been making the journey with no lights. Well, despite the fact that none of my not-quite-an-accidents have been related to darkness, I thought it best to rectify the situation and avoid any unpleasant surprise visits to Craigavon Area Hospital.

No regrets. Bicycles rock.

DeLorean: A dream within reach

blackdelorean-tn.jpgSome of you know I have a thing about DeLorean cars. It’s based on nothing more concrete than a childhood memory: I recall being about ten years old, glued to the TV set, watching a documentary on the now-infamous car, and wishing I could own one. The power of nostalgia compells me to love this car today; I can’t help it.

There were only ever about 8,000 DeLorean DMC-12 cars made, 6,000 of which are believed to still be in circulation, most in the USA. Now and again, I tap the name of the car into eBay. Occasionally they show up for sale, in various locales and conditions. I never seriously thought I would have an opportunity to own one. However, last week, one of these cars showed up in County Down, of all places – just a short drive from where I live. The car was described as pristine condition, and had had its original rust-proof stainless steel panels painted black by one of its owners. I liked this unique look a lot. DeLorean Noir! Bidding began at £10,000, but with a reserve of who knows what.

So I started thinking, was it truly possible for me to buy this car? Well, the only way for me to raise the funds was to remortgage my house. It’s not as drastic as it sounds. I have a pretty small mortgage currently. More importantly, was it worth it? Let’s say the total cost came to £15,000. Fifteen grand just to make driving feel like piloting an X-Wing Fighter. Since I’m currently getting around on a bicycle (and intending to keep on doing so), the car would be for special occasions only – largely kept in storage, free from wear-and-tear, retaining its classic status for a long, long time. Again, I have to ask, is it worth spending fifteen grand to own a car that you will hardly ever drive?

At the end of the day, it wasn’t money that put me off; the car would retain its value over time and could be re-sold whenever. I opted out because I thought long and hard about what owning something like this does to your mind. I pictured myself driving with acute paranoia about damaging the car. I pictured myself parking in public, leaving the car there and going shopping, constantly worried about someone deciding to run a key along the side of the door because the car is so eye-catching. This mental issue can be summed up in one Bible verse: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). What the verse is saying is that the things we own form attachments to us, or rather we form attachments to them. It’s a basic, unavoidable principle of human life, rooted in our own greedy natures. We care deeply, usually too much, about what we own. Naturally, the less you own, the more your heart is free to set itself on what’s important in life. Bottom line: I don’t want to become the kind of person who owns all sort of pretty things and worries about them constantly. That’s what the DeLorean would provoke in me. In my youth, I had a terrible collector’s mentality for books and videos. I seem to have grown out of it, to the degree that I hardly ever buy anything these days. If I buy a DVD, I’m usually thinking about its resale value on eBay! I’m glad about that and I don’t want to be lured into materialism again. Maybe I have a better grasp on my mortality than I used to.

So I let the DeLorean go. All things considered, I would be better served pursuing my dream of one day owning a boat. On the surface, it sounds like the same pursuit as the DeLorean, but what I’m really after is the experience of life on water, away from civilisation and close to nature. And experience is far more valuable the ownership of rare treasures. After all, if we get to take anything with us to the afterlife, it will be our memories of what we did in this life.

How to bring an eBay thief to justice

Let me tell you the true story of the videogame I purchased that took three months to arrive. As I’ve done countless times before, I got the winning bid on an eBay auction from a seller who had 100% positive feedback (I always check), this time for a copy of Crackdown for the Xbox 360, a game I was looking forward to playing. Unfortunately the seller did not accept Paypal payments. No big deal, except I would probably have to wait a week or more for delivery due to the cheque having to clear. Two weeks went by, and there was no sign of the game. I emailed the seller and got a positive response. I did some more waiting. Still no game. I emailed again. This time no response. Well over a month later, I rechecked the seller’s feedback rating and saw that three negative comments had appeared. So, I wasn’t the only person this guy had decided to rip off. Well, either that or he had died. Who could tell?

Anyway, I added my own negative comment to the others. Fair’s fair; he cashed my cheque and walked away without sending the goods. And if he’s now in heaven, he’ll hardly mind an extra stain on his eBay account. Next, I registered a complaint with eBay. Nothing happened except the seller’s account was shut down. So I had to decide: do I take this further or put it down to experience? Well, this wasn’t the first time I had been ripped off on eBay; it was the third. So I thought, No more. This time I’m not letting it rest.

eBay had turned out to be prettty unsupportive, so I formulated my own plan. First, I used Google to locate the nearest police station to the seller’s address. Then I used eBay’s “Contact Member” form to write a message to the three other victims of the seller. I asked each of them to compose a letter addressed to the police in the seller’s area, detailing exactly what the seller had done, including as much detail as possible, right down to the cheque numbers and dates cleared. Instead of having the buyers forward their letters individually to the police, I asked them to mail them to me. Two of them did so. Along with myself, that made us a party of three. I then forwarded all three letters directly to the police in the seller’s area. This whole approach saved several different police stations having to forward and collate (and possibly misplace or ignore) the data. Instead, I provided them with a nice tidy all-inclusive package. I was prepared to leave nothing to chance.

Sure enough, I eventually received a call from a police sergeant. He advised me there were two ways he could play it. He could either have us fill out an official form of complaint, or he could simply call round to the seller’s house today and quiz him. Collectively, we all agreed to the latter, because it was simple and quick. Boy oh boy, I would have loved to have seen the seller’s face when the sergeant arrived at his door and told him why he was there. Little did the scoundrel know that there were three offended customers from different parts of the country secretly conspiring against him.

Yes, the seller was very much alive, and quick to make his excuses. His story was that shortly after the auction he had been admitted to hospital for three weeks, during which time he also had problems with his girlfriend. And it was the girlfriend who was the actual owner of the eBay account he was using to trade. He was actually able to show the sergeant the very games he had listed on eBay and he then agreed to post them the next day. The presence of the games indicates that there actually was some original intent to make good on the sales, and I’m willing to believe that the seller’s story would check out, if investigated. However, the excuses are rather feeble when you consider how I had been waiting three months for the game. I think it was more theft by laziness than theft by intent. But theft is theft, and if I had never brought the matter to the police, I doubt that I would ever have received the game. Crackdown finally arrived yesterday.

There you have it. Honourable eBay users take note: if someone rips you off, now you know how to bring him down!

My trip to the USA

The story of why I spent August in Kansas, USA, goes like this: About two years ago my local friend Chris was doing his PhD in Astronomy at Armagh Observatory. His boss said, “I want you to attend a conference in Spain.” Chris sighed, bowed his head in resignation, and went. Whilst in Spain, he met an American lass called Stacey. It came to light that both were big fans of Farscape, and Chris just happened to have in his possession a laptop full of Farscape episodes. This ensured that these two spent plenty of time in each other’s company … alone. And so, Stacey soon swept my best friend off to the Land of the Free … or not so soon. Bravely, Chris battled the evil Red Tape for a year, until finally becoming an American citizen. Now he’s married with a kid. So off I flew to Kansas, to see my buddy for the first time in over a year.

One of the unexpected highlights of the vacation was spending time with Isabel, Chris and Stacey’s one-year-old girl. She got accustomed to this big six-foot-four monster quite quickly and we had a lot of fun. It’s amusing figuring out things that make babies laugh. One not so amusing moment was when Stacey decided to sneak out and do some shopping, leaving me alone with Isabel. I was able to keep the kid occupied for about fifteen minutes, then her wee head started looking around for mummy continually and nothing would distract her. After crawling around in frustration, she had a complete tearful, snot-filled meltdown. Luckily, Stacey arrived back within a few minutes.

One evening, Stacey and Chris put the baby to sleep in the bedroom and went out on a date. I watched some DVDs, keeping one eye on the baby monitor. For the most part, Isabel kept still, but occasionally she would give a little moan, then I would give a panicked glance at the monitor and see her changing position in the cot. Don’t wake up! I thought. Please don’t wake up! Thankfully I got through that evening without trauma.

Someone who comments occasionally on this blog is Jeffrey Allen Davis, a fellow indie author from Springfield, Missouri. I always remembered Jeff linking to my site with the words: “A brother in Christ from Ireland that I’ll probably never get to meet.” Well, it turns out that Springfield is only a four-hour drive from Chris’s abode in Olathe, Kansas, and it happens to be the town where Stacey went to college. So, we took a trip down there. Stacey went off to meet up with her old college buds while I met up with Jeff and two of his friends, Evan and Karen. It’s not often that I’ve met up with someone that I know purely from email, and it’s pretty amazing to be able to meet with someone so far from home. The four of us had a great time, chatting mostly about writing and filmmaking. Hopefully we’ll meet again on future trips to the US.

Some snippets of unusual things you don’t experience in Ireland.

  • Walking out of Kansas City Airport for the first time and being slapped across the face by a wall of heat.
  • Driving down the highway and spotting hawks with a five-foot wing-span gliding overhead.
  • Standing in a garden and looking at a tree that’s making more noise than a radio tuned to static. Cicadas are very noisy critters.
  • Motorcyclists without helmets, with fashion senses somewhere between Easy Rider and Mad Max.
  • Big flatbed trucks with deliberately raised suspensions and tyres that are much too wide for the body.
  • Obese people whizzing around indoors on motorised granny carts, far too young to be grannies. It’s a tragedy what some people regard as normal life.
  • Watching an incredible lightning storm. The sky flashed every few seconds; the forks were long and laboured. Over here it’s a quick flash every few minutes, if we’re lucky.

The vacation also afforded me an opportunity to obtain a couple of items that are unavailable in Ireland and the UK. I picked up season one of The Fall Guy and the complete series of The Greatest American Hero, two shows that I enjoyed as a kid, and which thus far have not appeared on region 2 DVD. Also purchased Bruce Campbell’s autobiography If Chins Could Kill, which looks like a fun read. Oh, and I bought some new trainers. Over here, they don’t stock my size (13″, although it’s called 14″ in the US; yes, I’m a freak) in shops and I have to mail order. So, it was pleasant actually being able to try-before-you-buy for once.

Americans seem to love the Northern Irish accent. As an experiment, I tried to put on the American accent, but apparently I sound effeminate when I do! You should hear the Americans trying to speak like a Northern Irishman. The ultimate test is to ask them to say, “How Now, Brown Cow.”

I enjoyed my holiday, but it’s good to be home, too. If there’s one thing I just can’t stand about Kansas, it’s the terrible humidity of mid-summer and the afternoon temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s necessary to be indoors most of the time. On one occasion, Stacey’s brother Loren travelled the fifteen-or-so miles to visit me at Chris’s apartment. Unfortunately the air conditioning in his car wasn’t working properly, and when he arrived, he was soaked with sweat, to the degree that it looked as if someone had thrown a water balloon at his back. I love the cool summers of Ireland and the ability to go cycling whenever and wherever I want. Unlike Chris, if I ever hit it off with an American chick, I will be dragging her back here.