On the Demise of Soup

When I was a kid my Dad made soup. It was tasty stuff full of veggies and meat and I adored it. If we didn’t have homemade soup then perhaps we would be treated to a can of Tomato soup. Soup was a part of the meal though back then. I suppose in recent decades, convenience foods have made a big chunk in most people’s diets and soup – real soup – seems to have disappeared a casualty of the war on dining (or preparation?) time. In the US, I rarely saw soup either except perhaps for the soup and salad restaurants where you could buy a hearty soup and fill a plate with salad for lunch. Soup, it seems is unpopular, unloved and old fashioned.

Here in the Czech Republic, soup and I were reintroduced. Here soup is a staple part of daily lunch. It comes in some really amazing characters too – potato soup, tomato soup, chicken broth, Meat broth, the yummy garlic soup bound to ensure your social popularity, and much more. I particularly enjoy the meat broth that often comes with small balls of boiled ground liver – it sounds gross but it is in fact delicious. Soup is celebrated here in the Czech Republic as is real food really. At least for now. KFC, McDonalds and the like are beginning to encroach and the younger folk seem to like that plastic languid antiseptic crud but you know what – there is no soup and I think thats a problem. At the schools here, soup is a key part of the daily meal and valued for its nutrition. Kids grow up with soup and they come to value it. I know my daughter often doesn’t think it was a proper meal with soup.

I think we should run a campaign to bring back soup. Soup in all its varieties and flavours homemade and piping hot. Let’s reject that dreadful salty powder that you add water to and boil and goes under the name of soup too because it isn’t soup at all. It’s boiled powder. Let’s get back to good old soup – chicken soup for the soul….

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Buyer’s Confusion

I am in the market potentially for a bike. The Czechs love to cycle and there is much to see on a bike here and lots of bike paths and routes and so on. Its a bikers’ paradise. ¬†Additionally, I just seem incapable of losing any weight whatever I do so I figure cycling more may help keep me fit, healthy and slimmer.

But boy, how difficult it is to buy a bike!

There seems to be around 20 odd brands and all of them make bikes in every category with minor differences and so my entry level bike choice probably numbers one of 30-40 different bike models and brands. Its no use asking the shop people which is the best value as they won’t tell you to go to another store now will they. From what I can gather, it comes down to frame and components but how you are supposed to know which components are superior to others is beyond me. I have even researched on the internet and reckon you would need to be mad crazy about bikes to ever know what it is you need to know to buy a bike.

The other thing that gets me is the price of bikes. Yes, you can pick up a cheap bike in a supermarket but my experience and research suggests these fall apart pretty quickly and I have heard them described as ‘death traps’ by the experts. For a real bike $500 seems to be about the minimum and it goes on from there. I saw a bike yesterday that had a price on it of $16,000 – you could buy a car for that!

My point though is that its now just bikes that pose a buying dilemma but more or less anything. Want a new TV? Take a look at all of those TVs in the showrooms – brands, types, sizes – what the hell makes one TV twice as expensive as another and how am I supposed to know this? Phones… washing machines… anything – we are spoilt for choice and such a broad choice that every purchase decision requires you to become an expert on the topic. It contributes to the stress of life that I simply am at the mercy of choice.

In the end then, how do I choose? Perhaps its just how a thing looks – color, design and shininess? I do my research, I shop around but invariably I fall in love with something despite myself. It may not be the best, have the best price etc. but I like it. Inevitably, the bike I end up buying will be the one I simply fell in love with…..

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The Haircut

I have always detested having my hair cut. It seems such a bloody waste of time and besides, I really don’t like looking at myself in a mirror for 30 to 40 minutes. For this reason, I always tend to leave it a bit longer than I should.

However, this morning I had my haircut. I go to an old fashioned barber’s shop in Prague where they really do a good job, use old fashioned blades and you get a good head massage as well. Of course, I had to look at myself sitting facing that mirror.

Perhaps it was the background music – a mix of seventies and eighties classics like Meatloaf and Patti Smith. Perhaps it was just my mood and state of mind right now. Who knows? But, as I looked at that face I began to see the wrinkles, the deep set lines, the beginnings of the sagging jowls and the greying hair. The contrast with my young hairdresser didn’t help. In his twenties, his skin still had that tight, fresh and vital look of youth. I am aging.

This thought triggered a sort of dispassionate sadness. I can’t explain it better than that. A sort of recognition that there is no escape from this process of aging nor would I wish to except perhaps to go back and take another crack – another bite of the cherry – knowing what I know now.

I don’t yet look decrepit. Just a few weeks ago, in the darkness of a Prague pub, a group of people we were talking to put me in my early forties or late thirties. Nice of them but they were obviously drunk! I have never looked my age and didn’t even start shaving until well into my late teens (well early twenties!). I was a late developer and spent a few years embarrassed by my lack of progress when changing for school sports! Perhaps now that is paying dividends for I am a young looking mid fifties guy.

But that’s changing now and changing quite rapidly so – in front of my own eyes.

It makes you think looking at yourself in the mirror for any length of time. Each line, grey hair and wrinkle has its own story. The story of our lives right there, etched in our skin.

I still see myself in my mind’s eye as perhaps mid twenties to mid-thirties. Still vital and energetic. Still chomping at the bit for life’s experiences and somehow naive and woefully innocent. The thought crossed my mind leaving the barbers that it is this energy – this life force – that is slowly abandoning me. It is as if that force, sensing pastures new, is readying it’s goodbyes. Somehow, I need to focus on maintaining that life force and energy where it is at least a little while longer.

Sometimes thoughts keep coming back. Going round and round in circles for just yesterday I had watched David Bowie’s video of Thursday’s Child. It seemed to have a similar theme or thought and I am, in fact, a thursday’s child myself……

That Time of The Year

Usually, as the cold leaden skies of February march onwards and inexorably towards spring, I find myself at the doctors. It could be a chest infection, some non-specific but painful ache or indeed any number of ailments. I know this because last year, my doctor noticed it. Every year, around March time, there is a spike in doctor visits from me. His diagnosis was that I suffer from SAD. Yep – Seasonal Affective Disorder….. otherwise known as seasonal depression.

At first, I was a bit taken aback by this diagnosis but there it was right in front of me as the Doctor showed me how I am rarely if ever at the Doctor at all until the February-April period and then I am there frequently moaning about something. By the end of April, my mood improves and I am OK again. I need sunlight apparently and I am not alone. SAD is an epidemic.

So its no surprise that suddenly I feel down. I mean really down. I don’t want to go out, can’t be bothered to do anything or see anybody. I have no interest in anything at all. I feel tired.. no, exhausted and I just want to sleep. Its SAD and I know its SAD this year so I am pleased that the weather is warmer and even sunnier than most years. Perhaps, that will help and lessen the effects.

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If I get SAD after seeing less of the Sun during the winter months I wonder can I get a form of SAD on Mondays too? I think a lot of people hate Mondays and come to loathe them unable to sleep on a Sunday night and not really knowing why. I shall call this syndrome MAD from now. It strikes me that there may even be MAD and SAD people out there that barely function on February Mondays…..

For now, I’m going to dream of the beach and summer……

Just words?

There is the saying ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’. It’s wrong. I heard a variation on the theme just recently where I was told that someone thought that words don’t have consequences, only actions. That’s wrong too.

Words are sounds. Sounds are vibrations. Sounds are waves that when they hit the eardrum of a conscious observer turn into sound and are interpreted by the brain. Sounds are a part of the fabric of creation. Not for nothing does the Bible say ‘In the beginning was the Word’ or insinuate that the first words spoken were “Let there be light.’ Kabbalah, the form of it practiced by people like Franz Bardon anyway, is the use of sacred sounds to create, to make magic. In a sense, this echoes the language of God that uttered those first words that created the Universe. Sounds are used to influence our thinking and thought patterns. Meditation sounds, spoken sounds like ‘Om’ have the same effect.

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Sounds create ripples and those ripples pass through creation whether you are aware of them or not. We are surrounded by thought and speech ripples. Sounds have also been use to levitate objects and even move objects around in science. Sounds and words have immense power to move people, destroy people and make them behave in certain ways.

Beyond all of this, words have a psychological impact too. If you tell someone they are an idiot often enough they may in the end believe it. Words can be the basis of torture and mind control at one extreme and a powerful confidence booster on the other. Words create. They create reality.

Words probably cause more damage than sticks and stones if we really think about it and they can have terrible and horrifying consequences. It is words that are used to poison minds to make terror, to persecute, to abuse and in some instances, engage in the annihilation of an entire race. Words can be used to express hatred and also love.

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The problem with words as opposed to ‘sticks and stones’ is that they are easy to use. It’s easy to tell someone something demeaning. Much easier for most of us than beating them with a stick. Jesus tells us “I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter;” The words that emanate from our mouths actually come from our heart……

Words are not just words.

The Secret Anti-Aging Formula…

There is a surreal feel about getting older. Inside, we tend to think of ourselves in a state of eternal youth. I guess for me that would be an age of say 25. From my thinking perspective, I feel no different than when I was in my mid-twenties. But then you catch a glimpse in the mirror or you see a photograph and there it is…. wrinkles, gray hair, paunch, double chin. Sad isn’t it?

How people approach aging is also interesting. For some, any visible sign of aging is to be avoided. Anti-aging and anti-wrinkle creams, plastic surgery, injections of growth hormone, whatever it takes to fool mostly themselves into believing that they do not age. Billions upon countless billions spent pursuing eternal youth. The vast majority of us though age ourselves prematurely smoking, over eating, lack of exercise and a stressful existence.

Last weekend, I had a chance to visit Scarboro on the east coast of England. Interestingly, I had been to Liverpool that week as well. In both locations I was simply amazed and a little horrified at what I saw. Prematurely aged people, often obese, walking around looking miserable. In particular the younger folk, even children, massively overweight. What sort of a life will these young folk lead if by 16 they are in such a state and at what cost to the health system?

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I’m sure that diet is the biggest part of it. Growing up I ate everything and anything I could lay my hands on. Being not so wealthy, it was often sandwiches made with white bread. Talk about processed food full of sugar? I remained thin. So what is it? Is there something in the diet these days that is bloating people or is it lack of activity or both? I don’t know the answer.

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What I do know is that harmony seems to be the missing thing. Balance. Society is out of balance.

In magic, we seek inner harmony and peace. We seeks to balance the inner forces. We look inward for strength and for stability. We can also use a technique or two to stay looking younger as well but I think there is something about magical practice that needs to have broader understanding. I’m not perfect at it myself – not even good. I fall out of practice all of the time but I can withdraw and meditate. I can feel the center of myself and rest at peace reducing anxiety and stress. I can magically charge water with skin restorative properties and bathe my face in it. It costs nothing but a little concentration. It’s a secret anti-aging formula that anyone can perform for free.

But the forces that be are against this. Imagine if everyone stopped spending those billions on cosmetics or indeed on cigarettes? That wouldn’t do at all now would it?

Aghhhh – Nothing Fits

I am struggling with weight gain as I have previously blogged. However, today, in anticipation of going to Florida Tuesday, I tried all 12 pairs of jeans and casual trousers I have. Now, just 18-months ago, every single pair fit me as of today just FOUR pairs do…..Just 4!! How the hell can this happen? How can I add 3 inches to my waistline in a little over a year while eating less and exercising a bit more? By quitting nicotine is how.

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Luckily, my shorts still do fit and hopefully, that’s all I need over the next two weeks. When I get back its a crash diet and more exercise for me….I can’t afford clothes right now.

Meanwhile, who has read that JK Rowling tried to sell a book under a different name? (See cover below). It got good reviews – very good in fact but was barely known and had only sold 1500 copies. Then they let the cat out of the bag and said novel is now rocketing off shelves and climbing the charts. So, what can we learn from this? That there isn’t much hope for the rest of us? I dunno, all it takes is a little luck and some positive visualization! I’d be happy to sell 1500 copies of The Last Observer (he lies….).

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The Dreaded Lurgy

Just about now, we should be headed down the runway of Charles De Gaulle en route for Detroit and later, Orlando. Tomorrow we had planned a morning by the pool before picking up a rental car and heading to Santa Anna Island. Dreams just dreams. Instead, we are sat at home with our 5-year old who is covered in the blisters of Chickenpox but is otherwise fine and, as usual, full of beans. We are all a bit disappointed to say the least but what will be will be.

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There was moment yesterday when I still believed this wasn’t chickenpox breaking out in front of our eyes. The hospital doctor soon put paid to that forlorn hope. Then there was the momentary temptation to follow the advice of many of our friends and go anyway. The spots weren’t obvious. But, chickenpox can be a killer to people with low immune systems and unborn babies whose mothers haven’t had it. Then what would we do if things got worse mid-Atlantic? Nope, the trip was off and so I started calling hotels, travel agents, car rentals etc. and trying to unwind the whole thing. So far, all but the hotel at Santa Anna has agreed to refund in full. I am also insured and on Monday morning will start the process of filing the claim.

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We are now looking at going on the 16th July albeit for a large fee with the airline (it’s peak period now…). So all will need to be re-booked – except that hotel in Santa Anna – if they don’t refund I am damned if I am going to stay there! Hopefully, we will actually make it next time.

Meanwhile, I am afraid for you all it means another 2+ weeks of spamming about my book and stuff…… sorry folks!

Technology is Killing Us

I was reminiscing to myself last night as you do from time to time. I recall back in the early part of my career how there where no cell phones, no smart phones, no IPads, no PCs, no windows, no Google, no Facebook…… and wasn’t it great! If I went on a trip, I didn’t expect to keep in touch with people, no one called me looking for something. Occasionally, I’d get on a payphone and call home to check in but that was it. Back then, a holiday was a holiday.

On Sunday, we leave for two weeks in the USA. Sunday looks like being miserable with three flights and around 14 hours in the air. But I am looking forward to my vacation and going back to the US. I will of course dutifully take my iPhone and IPad. I will of course, take urgent business calls and respond to email periodically. In short, I am still connected, still on line and still working….. What a contrast to my early days of work.

Two years ago, I was in Houston, TX and we went to see a major gas company to see if we could get some business. As we waited in the hallway for our appointment, we were looking at the display of archaic computing equipment (we were after all, in the IT department of the company). Most of the equipment on display was Compaq equipment (A Houston company). Much to my amazement there was a huge PC complete with connected keyboard, huge screen all neatly wrapped up into a suitcase-size portable laptop. Only 15-years earlier, I had been lugging the exact same equipment around Europe trying to sell a piece of software we had developed and which was on this ‘laptop’ to demonstrate to prospective clients. Boy – did I suddenly feel old.

In the 30-years I have been in employment, the world has changed beyond belief. Tomorrow’s world is yesterday. The impact on each of us is immense and I suspect very stressful. God help our kids as they will likely never know a world where a holiday really was a holiday without email, Facebook and such. While we have gained something, I often feel that we have lost so much more.

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When I was a kid, we would play in the street with bits of wood, dustbin lids and our bikes. Endless hours of self-made fun. Many of the kids today are locked into living their lives through their IPads or PC’s. People are getting dumber because of all this reliance on technology I read. It’s true, I know because I will often listen to GPS instructions even when I know they seem wrong. How many times have I cursed the bloody thing knowing full well I KNEW it was wrong but decided it must be right because it knows better?

The art of living is observation. Reality is to be observed. We can’t observe if our heads are stuck into our phones, PCs and Ipads can we? I think we should all work at taking time everyday to look around us and become fascinated with the world as opposed to the technology that keeps us away from it. Easier said than done but it needs to be done.

Meanwhile, I don’t know if Einstein really said this but I find it rather apt anyway….

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A Spot of Colon Navigation???

Just under 2-years ago, a routine colonoscopy discovered a 5cm tumor in my colon. Although benign, the tumor was growing rapidly and would soon result in a large internal explosion. Apparently not good for life support. Much to my trepidation, it had to come out.

Can you imagine major surgery in a foreign country where your language skills rank maybe a 4 for comprehension and a 2.5 for speaking? Actually, the facility I had the surgery in was very good and it was keyhole surgery too performed especially by the top Doctor there. I recall being wheeled in for the surgery. The operating theater was huge and had an amazing view of Brno castle at least until they put the shades down. There must have been about 8 doctors and nurses working on me that day. After 6.5 hours, they resuscitated me. I was amazed, very little pain and absolutely no memory whatsoever of the missing time! After 4-weeks, I was back at work. Not bad for having had 10cm of my colon removed and the thing stitched back together, rewired and put back where it belongs……

Roll forward until say this Christmas. I was starting to feel some pain in my gut or was it my back? I was sent to the gastro specialist first as there was concern about the surgery of course. She confirmed I should have a colonscopy to be sure. Of course, this was my third but let me tell ya, they don’t get easier! It’s actually not so much the procedure itself (of which much more later) but the preparation.

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Preparation starts a week or three days out. You can’t eat fruit, nuts and a bunch of other foods that might have small seeds. Then, the day prior it begins. A small breakfast of yoghurt and restricted to clear drinks like black coffee or of course much better – water. Then, in the evening, the dreaded cleaner. It comes in two or three varieties all of which need to be consumed with gallons of water. They all taste dreadful and by the time you are on liter 2+, you really feel like dying. Your bowels start making gurgling noises and then, suddenly, its big white telephone time. And, once there, you may as well just stay there for 4-5 hours. It is horrific. Of course, you get virtually no sleep in between rushes to the little room all night long.

Finally, after some fitful sleep, you awake and start again. Yes, you drink more cleaning fluid and more gallons of water and sit on the toilet again feeling like the bottom has fallen out of your world (or maybe the other way around). Its around this time, you start to wonder just how you will make it to the doctors? 30 mins on public transport in this state? Somehow though you do make it.

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Last night, I was reading a few colonoscopy experiences on the web. I do so love to freak myself out. One woman actually said that she felt like she had been violated by the male doctor who did the procedure! I think this woman may have had some other problems because I don’t see how you can call a potentially life saving procedure violation. On the other hand, maybe I do.

I was asked to strip from the waist down and lie on my left side thrusting my behind out towards the female doctor. As she prepared her navigation kit, the nurse stuck me with some good stuff. I don’t know what it was but boy….. it was some good shit let me tell you. The next thing I know, doctor is putting the kit away and I am saying “What? Did you do it already?” Apparently she had. 18 minutes worth of violation in my case but I didn’t know anything about it. “Good news”, she said. ” Everything is fine and normal.” Whether you really think of having a camera shoved up your bum and navigated around your colon as violation or not, these few words make it all seem worthwhile…. until the next time.

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