The Cult of NIHA

It can’t be classed as a widespread cult when there’s only been one member of this sect for the last fifty or so years, so perhaps I should explain why.

pathway to light through rough field

Like many teenagers of my generation I was looking for a religion that I could accept and believe. It later became fashionable to describe this as having ‘a god shaped hole in your life’.

I could never bridge the gap between belief and proof, so I looked for a commonality in those religions I explored. They all had a basic mantra of doing good, respecting each other and caring for the world in all it’s intricate beauty.

Okay, so they pretty much all declared wars and vendettas against each other over the centuries and claimed they were the only ‘one and true religion’. I needed something that give me a path to follow, avoided the negatives and focussed on the positives. It was and is NIHA.

Never Intentionally Harm Anyone

The credo is simple. You will accidentally hurt or harm people, emotionally or physically, in your journey through life – but never do so intentionally.

Have I lived up to this objective? Probably not as I’m not a saint. But the direct alternative is nihilism and in that path lies madness and hatred

I have rarely spoken of NIHA to anyone, never tried to promote it on any social media, never introduced it as #NIHA and never written about it until now. Probably very few will ever read this and I don’t expect it to be adopted by anyone else, but it has worked for me I hope.

If you want to join me, there are no leaders, no meetings and definitely no initiation ceremony.

Other religious beliefs are available.

To the prospective new tenants

rubbish left after a music festival

We would like to profusely apologise for the state in which we left the property after our extended rental. We had all over-indulged and were not really behaving ourselves. Consequently we did, I suspect, damage several items of which we should have taken more care.

In the gardens we unthinkingly cut some down some of the larger plants in order to extend the lawns which, with hindsight, we should have left alone. Also we did allow some substances to fall into the the ponds. We now realise it was home to quite a variety of species that are going to be difficult, if not impossible, to replace.

We understand that the property was not designed for the seven billion people who eventually turned up to our party, but we found it difficult, if not impossible, to say no to new arrivals. On the positive side, we have made a number of ‘improvements’, and hope that you will find some use for them. We would advise you to avoid any that glow. As for the catering we have no excuses. We have to say it was most enjoyable feast, but we’re sorry about the mess that we didn’t have time to clear up.

We do hope you can return the establishment to it’s former glory, but we now find ourselves unable to offer any assistance in restoration as we have, regrettably, moved on.

Yours very sincerely, A Boomer

Don’t blame the boomers alone

It’s worth considering a few facts about us before you ladle all the world’s problems onto one generation.

baby boomers generation

When we were children we wore mainly woollen and cotton clothes. The average hoody, jeans and trainers outfit now contains the equivalent of ten plastic bottles. Our clothes were kept and used until they wore out, not just until they had been worn out – once or twice.

We struggled to buy a house, we were limited to three times one salary for a mortgage and paid interest rates of up to 18% pa.

Free education up to the age of eighteen was provided then and now, but only 9% of us went on to university education. Now near 50% of young people go to university – mainly because universities are now businesses who need consumers.

We were low energy consumers. When we were at university the vast majority of us couldn’t afford to go to clubs, eat fast food or own a car. Electronics consisted of a calculator.

Holidays were taken once a year, usually without flying anywhere.

Home entertainment was a board game, not an energy consuming piece of electronics.

We worked all summer, at Christmas and in the Easter holidays to fund our education. Many of worked during the evenings too, in restaurants as waiting staff and in pubs. Low pay, no minimum wage and no contract.

Those phones that you might change every couple of years use huge amounts of energy to make and distribute, they also exploit third world and child labour. Most are never recycled. We didn’t have mobile phones, laptops or tablets. We wrote longhand on recyclable materials.

Emails, web browsing, tweeting and posing on social media are not carbon neutral methods of communication. Take emails for example

“When you are typing, your computer is using electricity. When you press ‘send’ it goes through the network, and it takes electricity to run the network. And it’s going to end up being stored on the cloud somewhere, and those data centres use a lot of electricity. We don’t think about it because we can’t see the smoke coming out of our computers, but the carbon footprint of IT is huge and growing.” Mike Berners-Lee (brother of the inventor of the internet)

Transport was by bicycle, bus, or walking. Most of us didn’t have parents who owned cars when we were young, there was no home taxi service. The same was was true for getting to and from school.

We protested about about nuclear weapons, racial segregation and superpowers waging war in third world countries. We didn’t vilify people on social media who we didn’t really understand.

This is not a whinge, we just don’t deserve all the blame. One thing we learned to do was listen and try to understand other people’s point of view – a skill that has now sadly been lost.

Yours very sincerely, A Boomer

How to act like a human

lots of blurred people

Everyone human being is made slightly different. Given that there are now over seven billion of us that’s pretty remarkable. It’s also not surprising that some of us malfunction in minor ways.

When I was a child
I thought everyone else had a sixth sense that I was lacking. As an adult, and after several different and sometimes interesting psychiatric diagnoses, I have come to realise that we’re all different in some way (not just me) and that applying labels doesn’t change anything.

As a child I didn’t understand how social interactions worked. I watched, trying to see how people communicated beyond the words they uttered. Small changes of expression, subtle body movements and hand gestures, variations in tone of voice and small pauses – they all augmented what they said or even replaced speech altogether. I didn’t have an innate ability to pick up on all of this so I studied cartoons, where an artist uses a set of facial rules for expression.

The people watching syndrome
This problem with ‘reading’ people also turned me into an extreme people watcher. By the time I was at university I was also supplementing my course work with reading about non verbal communication and body language. And I devoured several accessible books on psychology and psychiatry – plus attempting a few that were beyond my understanding.

So this is me
I am a hotchpotch, created by observing other people and trying to imitate their tics, blinks and sideways looks. I’m quite good at it now.

What I never realised was that all that observation would turn out to be useful when creating characters in stories. I had unknowingly been building a reference library in my head of characterisations.

What about wearing a label?
Maybe all writers should wear a warning sign, ‘Everything you say or do may be used in a novel’.

My particular label?
According to a recent diagnosis (about 5 years ago and very detailed over several meeting) I am ‘sub clinically autistic. Even my GP doesn’t quite know what that means so who cares.

Have you had a label attached to you that either makes you laugh or explains some of your quirky habits?

The World in AD 2000

This is an essay my father wrote in 1937 about the what he expected the world to be like in the year 2000. I’ve included a transcript for easier reading.

Essay predicting the future from 1937

The World in AD 2000 – David James Aiken

Sixty three years hence? think of sixty three years back! would the average man of eighteen seventy four imagined out present world, with its fast traffic, its aeroplanes, the radio – and all that forms the fabric of our modern existence, but what of the future, will the world improve as much again?

The trend of modern life and its inventions is to give more leisure time to the average man, by speading up of work and an eventual shortening of working hours. This leisure time used wisely promises benefits to be reaped in the future, and as man becomes more familiar with the secrets and forces of nature, so will further secrets and forces become revealed to him.

With the advent of the telephone and television into every home, domestic private life will to a great extent disappear, distances will be reduced and it will be commonplace to speak with relations in far off countries and probably to see them on a television screen. Travel to distant parts of the globe will be speeded up by flying hotels travelling at speeds which today are records. Our ocean going liners will be used for heavy freight and as a cheap form of travel as well as pleasure cruising.

A world tour will be a matter of a week or two instead of months.

With this increased facility for travel and increased leisure, education will have progressed, and the risk of friction between nations minimised byt the interchange of ideas and visits. It will not be so easy to mislead people about their neighbours as it was in the past.

Our men of science will also be progressing, and we shall find bloodless surgery holding a very high position in medical treatment. The people may even pay doctors a weekly fee to keep them advised as to their health and not pay when they are ill.

Interplanetary communication may be a possibility, and new realms for explorers to search. News will be in the papers almost as soon as it is an accomplished fact.

In general, life in 2,000 AD will be faster and consequently leisure will be of utmost importance, and the correct use of this leisure. If wisely used it will be a happy world.

How this essay came to light

I never saw this essay until after my father died in 1983 and I was going through his papers. This was a peculiar affair as not only had I lost my father, but he had been a very secretive, reclusive man. He worked for the government, ostensibly in the civil service, but his work was covered by the official secrets act. I never knew what he did and neither did my mother or sister.

As children my sister and I were sometimes entertained by curious pieces of equipment he would bring home, usually only for one evening. Miniature tape recorders, tiny cameras and on one occasion a bottle of mercury (times were very different in the early 1950s.

This essay was written before the second world war and I imagine he would have been disappointed by that part of his predictions being so far off the mark. In most of the essay he got he pretty close to what has happened.

Mental health awareness

snow fields

There is a big campaign, with lots of publicity, about speaking out on mental health issues and making it okay to admit to friends and family that you have problems. This is a good initiative but there are a few issues I’ve noticed.

Virtue signalling for exposure
Some celebrities have hijacked the subject of mental health to promote new books, new tv shows, almost anything they are ‘selling’. Their past, maybe current, problems are probably real, but when the last part of their ‘confession’ is a commercial link or tag, I begin to question their motives – or those of their agents.

Me too reactions
When a mental issue is raised among friends or family there is often a ‘me too’ reaction. Phrases which I’ve heard include…

1 Well I could let myself be depressed, but I just shake myself out of it.

2 We’re all on the autistic scale somewhere.

3 God I know what you mean, like I literally have thought about killing myself so many times.

4 We’ve all got OCD to some extent, I do loads of those things too.

5 I’ve had a few sessions with CBT and it’s cured me completely.

6 There’s nothing wrong with you, I’ve known you for years and you don’t have that.

I hope I don’t need to pick apart each one of these responses, but if you haven’t suffered from any serious mental health issues you will never fully understand the trauma they can cause. I spent some time as a Samaritan listener and it put my own problems firmly in perspective. Yes, I have been diagnosed with mental health problems. Yes, I do take some modest medication to help with those problems. But I cope.

From the casual observer’s point of view I have lived a pretty normal, stable life. But nobody knows what goes on inside someone else’s head. To suggest you do, and that’s it’s perfectly normal, is as ridiculous as saying “I used to only have one leg, but I decided to grow another one”.

Bauhaus legacy

painting by George Adams of the Bauhaus

I was extraordinarily lucky to be mentored by George Adams in my first year of studying Art and Design. This was a designer and artist who had studied at the Weimar Bauhaus under Walter Gropius in the early 1920s.

Elements of his teachings are still in the forefront of my mind today, over fifty years later. He didn’t teach us how to draw, but how to think. More importantly he told us never to stop ‘playing’. That element of play in design, illustration, painting and in creative writing are essential in allowing you to live what you are making.

In writing this allows characters to ‘take over’ the plot, to drive different storylines. You start off by being a puppeteer, you end up more like a puppet hanging on for the ride.

Thank you George Adams, you changed my life.