Barbarians still


Lo, it is nearly 350 years that we and our fathers have inhabited this most lovely land, and never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race, nor was it thought that such an inroad from the sea could be made. Behold the church of St Cuthbert spattered with the blood of the priests of God, despoiled of all its ornaments; a place more venerable than all in Britain is given as a prey to pagan peoples …’. Letter from Alcuin of York to Ethelred, king of Northumbria, 8 June, 793.

I’ve been catching up with the TV series, Vikings, watching series 1 and 2 all in one week. Like many others, I had been brought up to consider the Vikings as the epitome of barbarism. My Anglo-Saxon ancestors, no doubt, having some sway in that prejudice.

As a child I loved the Norse myths as expounded by Roger Lancelyn Green, and have fond memories of my father reading to me the exploits of the gods, Thor, Odin, Freya, dwarves, dragons and heroes; and to complete my initiation into the romance of the Norsemen, I would sit on my father’s knee when he was listening to Wagner’s Ring Cycle and follow the words of the libretto. Heady stuff for a six year old.

MGM and the History channel’s version certainly perpetuates the myth, while adding some human love interest and gentle family interactions in between the betrayals and factions; and of course the brutality is not spared as the actors seem to relish the fight scenes. It’s well done with a convincing authenticity.

The Viking invasion of Britain took place from 793–1284, the last of several waves of invaders, over a thousand years ago, and I asked myself how has the human race progressed in that time. I wondered how many lives have been lost in battles for land, for religion, and tribal internecine strife.

I started thinking about barbarity as this is a word that has been bandied around in recent times with regard to the Daesh in the Middle East and their vicious struggle  to establish a caliphate and the battle to stop them. Even the Prime Minister of our country, John Key, has used the concept of standing up against barbarism to justify taking our troops into the battle zone, only to “train” Iraqi troops, of course.

My concern is that our government is buying into a lie and leading our nation into defending actions that are as barbarous as those it decries.

There are no good guys in war, only aggressors and victims. What difference does it make if the violence is a beheading or obliteration by a remotely controlled drone? Lives are lost for no purpose that can be justified.

The Vikings may have been barbarians, but modern man is no better, and at heart has not changed at all.

“They bound Edmund and insulted him ignominiously, and beat him with rods, and afterwards led the devout king to a firm living tree, and tied him there with strong bonds, and beat him with whips. …They then shot spears at him, as if it was a game, until he was entirely covered with their missiles, like the bristles of a hedgehog…When Ivar the impious pirate saw that the noble king would not forsake Christ, but with resolute faith called after Him, he ordered Edmund beheaded, and the heathens did so” Abbo of Fleury, Martyrdom of St Edmund, King of East Anglia.

There’s a whole web page that has compiled the numbers who have been killed in strife over the centuries, it doesn’t make pretty reading, nor does it inspire hope that man learns from the mistakes of history.

Just a few facts to ponder from our more recent history:

“In its report, the UN mission to Iraq says at least 5,576 civilians were killed and another 11,665 wounded from 1 January until the end of June. Another 1.2 million have been driven from their homes by the violence, it adds.

The pace of civilian deaths over the first six months marked a sharp increase over the previous year. In all of 2013, the UN reported just over 7,800 civilians killed, which was the highest annual death toll in years.

The fighting “has inflicted untold hardship and suffering on the civilian population with large-scale killings, injuries, and destruction and damage of livelihoods and property”, the UN report says.

It also documents human rights abuses by both sides of the conflict that may constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes.

The UN said Isis and its allies had committed “systematic and egregious violations” against civilians, including killings, sexual violence, kidnappings, destruction of property and attacks on places of religious worship.”

‘Why the Rise of Fascism is Again the Issue’
John Pilger wrote:
“Since 1945, more than a third of the membership of the United Nations – 69 countries – have suffered some or all of the following at the hands of America’s modern fascism. They have been invaded, their governments overthrown, their popular movements suppressed, their elections subverted, their people bombed and their economies stripped of all protection, their societies subjected to a crippling siege known as “sanctions”. The British historian Mark Curtis estimates the death toll in the millions. In every case, a big lie was deployed.”

Iraq war
“Nearly half a million people have died from war-related causes in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003, according to an academic study published in the United States on Tuesday.”

Total military casualties from both sides 1.475 million
Total wounded from both sides 2.094 million
Total civilian casualties from both sides 4 million

Over 60 million people were killed, which was over 3% of the 1939 world population (est. 2 billion)

The total number of deaths includes about 10 million military personnel and about 7 million civilians.

List of wars and anthropogenic disasters by death toll

When delusion becomes a reality

Science has not yet taught us if madness is or is not the sublimity of the intelligence. Edgar Allan Poe

Back in 1984, a portentous year for sure, someone very close to me had a major psychotic episode. The substance of his paranoia consisted of delusions of mass surveillance on a global scale by secret forces such as the CIA and FBI. The scenario of his terror was that of satellite observation of our personal communication systems, even to the extent of our thoughts; his obsession was to resist such intrusions with all of his being.

Of course in 1984 such Orwellian fears were  the stuff of science fiction and those who believed and feared such fictions were reality were considered mad and dealt with appropriately by compulsory treatment in mental institutions, and thus it was with my dear one.

Fast forward thirty years and the revelations of Edward Snowden and an intrepid band of investigative journalists show that the substance of paranoid delusions are now a reality.

So, are those who suffer from paranoid delusions like  the seers and prophets of old, who had an interpretation of a future reality that could not be understood until it came to pass?

Is the loss of privacy, intrusion into our private communications, our inner thoughts, a deep seated human fear that is now a reality?

Instead of locking away the troubled within our societies and silencing their ravings with drugs, perhaps we should heed their warnings, and question whether the path the agents of secrecy are leading us down is the the path to losing our very humanity.


When the mind is tired or bored the neural pathways find their own entertainment.

Ekbon syndrome, hereditary acromelalgia, anxietas tibialis, or leg jitters, it sounds neurotic, silly – how can anyone who doesn’t experience restless leg syndrome it take it seriously?

Tensing torture of legs, arms, shoulders, back, an occasional ankle or toe – It’s hard to describe to those who don’t suffer from this affliction. Imagine a network of strings, like those of a marionette, only internal, running between muscle and bone; these strings are relentlessly tightened and released causing an urge to stretch out the afflicted limb to the point of jerking or twitching. It’s not painful as a cramp and others have described the sensation as writhing worms boring into your bones; it’s the unremitting sleep deprivation that is distressing.

They say caffeine makes it worse – I’ve had no coffee for two years with no noticeable improvement.
Exercise helps, but can also exacerbate.
Stress is a contributor, but so is boredom.

Every method of relief that is sworn by for one sufferer, another finds useless. Some medications help some people, but not others. Even those that I’ve found relieving, sometimes aren’t; there seems to be no rhyme or reason for efficacy.

If I’m lucky, a visit to the bathroom, a couple of tablets, a short routine of seated yogic exercises (spinal and hamstring stretches) and snuggle back down to slumber. On a bad night, the exercise becomes more vigorous, leg and arm swings, even rolling around the floor doing sit-ups; eating can help or applying a warm wheat pillow to to the recalcitrant member.

Distraction is also effective; to soothe my rampant limbs, I’ve written some good letters to the local paper on bad nights; getting heated about an issue takes the mind off bodily discomfort.

My nocturnal mania sets in as I hear the gentle rhythmic breathing of my sleeping dogs and occasional staccato spousal snores. The wind blows, rain falls, possum wheezes, hedgehog fossicks: the sounds of night. Across the dark sky clouds billow, stars sparkle, hackneyed words maybe, but exactly appropriate. I look for Orion, the constellation’s passage marks how long I’ve been awake.

Full moon, no moon, months pass through the seasons. Although now It’s mid-summer the nights are already lengthening, dawn no longer at half five but inching past six.  For me the avian calls that welcome the dawn are still hours away.

Awake, digital time rolls over
minute by minute, luminous green;
no seconds ticking by
in metronomic melody
to soothe midnight thoughts
weaving patterns of mental modalities,
nocturnal dalliance on diurnal banalities.

Silent seconds barely pass with each tossing turn.
Focus breath, consciously release
toes, ankles, calves, thighs
belly, arms;
shrug off care’s burden
that on shoulders lies.

Relentlessly tension’s rhapsody reprises:

Jaws clench, brows knit, lips purse,
mind engages.

A blackbird sings,
false herald of a distant dawn.

Who gains?

Who gains
From the pain
Of never ending strife
In foreign fields
Where innocence and life
Have no value
On the balance sheet


It isn’t the oppressed in whose name we are sold the idea of war. Not the women who are denied education, not those whose lifestyle is forbidden by a prophet or a despot. No, these will continue to be the victims, despite regime changes.

The only beneficiaries of warmongery are the money makers, those whose profits soar in times of conflict. It’s not just the weapon makers, but a whole battalion of support industries, from electronics to metals, from rubber to avionics, even food and clothing. 


War is big business and that business is booming.

And in the aftermath the moguls of reconstruction and infrastructure make their killing.

 It is no wonder that the Hawks keep circling the corridors of power; and those who claim to represent us with their portfolios of investments, rub their hands with glee while feigning regret and solidarity for the lambs who will be slaughtered in the cross fire.



Strange word
with so much hanging on it
squat and definite 
yet unknowing answer
the abruptness
belies the question
that marks the open end


Endlessly possible
yet doubting implied
action and reaction queried
unending cycle


of the wonders of life
softly cajoling
longing to know
the infinite reason


Encompassing all 
alpha and omega
forever sought


eye to the horizon
no end in sight
clouds of time and occasion



Smoke billows and dissipates above the pine trees
No breath of wind diverts the plumed ascent
Mountain backdrop impervious to transcendant haze
Imperturbable harmony reflected in a lake of glass
A shimmer of undulating ripples
Sky blue echoes in a bed of the grey green brown black pebbles
Lazy ducks meander and dive through crystal
Distant plane thrums bass
To avian chirp and chatter songs with cicada clicks and the passing buzz of flies
Driftless vapour merges into tranquility



Singing words, words, words, between the lines of age.

The haunting refrain of Neil Young‘s song inhabits my mind as I indulge in my latest escape. Online word games, playing with total strangers, discovering combinations of letters that score the most points. A long way from the Scrabble I enjoyed as a child, no cheating with dictionaries then; but now the whole World Wide Web is at my fingertips and words that I can scarcely believe are human turn out to be urban slang rather than Klingon. Where did ‘jol’ and ‘lez’ and ‘qis’ come from? Who cares? Judiciously placed on a triple letter or word square and 30 plus points are mine. I used to think it was all about using my mind and finding intelligent words, proud to show my erudition and education, but now it’s all strategy, filling little gaps and blocking my opponent and grabbing those double and triple thrills where I can.