Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Can ageing be reversed? Why DO we grow old and die?

Trees outlive humans by hundreds of years 

Currently, ageing is a remorseless, unrelenting and inevitable process from which nobody seems able to escape. Yet finding a cure for this condition, maybe even for death itself, has been the ultimate goal for humans since time began. 

In ancient China, for example, Taoist priests led
 people to neglect their labour to search for “the elixir of life” or “fountain of youth”. Alchemists in medieval Europe and Arabia used noxious ingredients such as arsenic, sulphur and mercury to create their supposed life-preserving potions - though how long anyone actually lived after taking them is anybody’s guess! 

One African legend is that God send a chameleon to deliver immortality to mankind, but it moved so slowly that another lizard got there first and persuaded people to accept a message of death instead.

As far back as the 4th century BCE, the Greek philosopher Aristotle attempted to explain just why we die, concluding that life hinged on the human body’s ability to balance heat and cold, observing: “It is always to some lack of heat that death is due.” Another philosopher, Plato, taught that man has an immortal soul that survives the death of the body.

Today, little has changed and it isn’t just women who yearn to turn back the clock, nor is it just the rich who pay handsomely to have their bodies frozen via cyronics, hoping for a revival once a cure for their terminal condition has been discovered. Every day, dubious and sometimes highly unethical therapies are being lined up as the only way to achieve that everlastingly flawless complexion and perfectly toned muscles. One stomach-churning report by a national newspaper exposed the use of desiccated foetuses in tablet form which are thought to preserve youth.

Are ageing and death natural?

For many people, the idea of living forever seems too far-fetched, even absurd. But is it? If we were only meant to live for just three score years and ten (or longer if we have exceptional genes), why do we fear death so much? Why do people undergo painful and unpleasant treatment to defeat life-threatening disease, or grieve so much when a loved one dies? And, if old age is as natural as we’re led to believe, why do so many invest heavily in creams, fillers, and cosmetic surgery to hold back the years? 

"He has even put eternity into their heart" - Ecclesiates 3:11

This may come as a shock to many, but the truth is humans were originally designed, not only to live indefinitely, but to stay young and beautiful. The first three chapters of Genesis explain how Adam and Eve were created perfect but lost their prospect of everlasting youth when they rebelled against God's sovereignty. The result? Imperfection, ageing and eventual death. (Romans 5:12) Even so, having once been perfect, it took the couple a lot longer to age than it does for us today; in the years leading up the the flood of Noah's day, humans could live for hundreds of years, although life spans became much shorter after the heavenly ocean was let loose and no longer protected the earth.*

The sad fact is, even a tree can last ten times longer than we do - which seems an awful waste of our incredible brains, described by molecular biologist James Watson as “the most complex thing we have yet discovered in our universe.” Just as we learn how to use it, we're too old to care!

Superficially, looks matter too. One photographer who specialises in cosmetics and skin care products believes a model is over the hill at 17, as, by then, the complexion has lost its dewy glow!!

But were we actually meant to grow old? At one time, gerontologists believed human bodies were programmed - to grow, to reach their peak and then to rapidly decline into old age and, eventually, death. Yet some experts into ageing have now modified that view, largely due to the miraculous way the human body functions. 

Biologist Jared Diamond, for example, noted how we “replace the cells lining our intestine once every few days, those lining the urinary bladder once every two months, and our red blood cells once every four months,” adding: “Nature is taking us apart and putting us back together every day.” 

This means that our physical bodies don’t really age at all but, according to one scientist: “In a year, approximately 98% of the atoms in us now will be replaced by other atoms that we take in through our air, food and drink.” 

And, as other experts admit they don’t know why ageing should occur, we have to wonder whether we really should live forever. In his book, Conquest of Death, Alvin Silverstein wrote of his desire to “unravel the essence of life” and to understand how a person ages.” He was convinced that one day there will be no more old people, “for the knowledge that will permit the conquest of death will also bring eternal youth.” 

"Then God says, 'Spare him from going down into the pit! I have found a ransom! 
Let his flesh become fresher than in youth; 
Let him return to the days of his youthful vigor'" - Job 33:24,25 (NWT)

Recent scientific findings:

The Telomere and the Flatworm

Forget the Botox, cancel your facelift – according to researchers at Nottingham University, the Fountain of Youth may lie with the humble flatworm.

From just one member of this innocuous species, a team led by Molecular Biologist Dr Aziz Aboobaker have created over 20,000 worms which, when divided, simply grow back again - i.e. the head bit grows another tail while the tail portion grows a replacement head, producing two worms for the price of one. And the more they are cut up, the more parts there are to regenerate into complete new worms, each identical to the first, with bodies and organs that never seem to deteriorate.

As a result of his research, Molecular Biologist Dr Aziz Aboobaker believes flatworms are immortal thanks to telomeres which keep their cells dividing and renewing perpetually, unlike humans.

Telomerase research has now become one of the hottest fields in molecular biology, boosted by results from Dr Aboobaker’s recent study.  

Every cell contains a nucleus, a complex control centre, providing instructions for all the cell’s activities. This set code is stored in the chromosomes, a mix of protein and deoxyribonucleic acid, now commonly known as DNA. Although discovered in the 1860’s, DNA’s molecular structure was not fully understood until a century later when biologists began to realise its primary role – to convey genetic information.

At the tip of each chromosome is a short snippet of DNA called a telomere - from the Greek te’los (end) and me’ros (part).  Acting as a protective shield, rather like the plastic cap at the end of a shoelace, the telomere helps to stabilise the chromosome, preventing it from fraying, breaking or sticking. Unfortunately, most telomeres shrink grow shorter with each cell division until they wear away to mere stumps and no longer prove effective. Without the telomere’s protection, the cell stops dividing and begins to die due to the Hayflick Limit, a process discovered by Dr Leonard Hayflick in the 1960’s whereby cells appear to have a finite number of divisions – around 50 during its life span.  

Because of this phenomenon, human cells eventually shrink with age, resulting in our inevitable decay. Not so with flatworms. Their telomeres remain exactly the same, so cells keep on dividing at the same rate. As a result, Dr Aboobaker and colleague Dr Thomas Tan claim to have already isolated the ‘immortality’ gene and feel confident that it may one day help scientists to grow new organs and develop treatments to keep old age at bay. The implication is that if biologists could use telomerase to stop telomeres shortening during normal cell division, perhaps ageing could be halted or at least delayed. According to Geron Corporation News experiments with telomerase have already shown that normal human cells can be modified with “an infinite replicative capacity.”

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

In this 'Post-Truth' world, how honest are you?

So 'Post-Truth' has been coined by Oxford Dictionaries, a term that pretty well sums up the world today.

How appropriate. And how very, very sad. 

When politicians, banks, newspaper chiefs, big businesses and even religious leaders can’t be trusted what chance is there for the rest of us? And, in the face of what must surely be the most corrupt, exploitative, money-obsessed period in human history, is honesty still the best policy? Is it actually possible to be 100% above board living in this woefully corrupt system?
On a personal level we all like to think we’re basically honest and truthful – but to what extent? Do we always fill in our tax details accurately, or do we ‘accidentally’ forget to include the occasional cash payment or perk. If we find a purse on the street, do we attempt to return it, or is it a case of ‘finders keepers’?
What often makes it hard to be honest is pressure from others.  One factory worker, for example, became extremely unpopular with his colleagues as, unlike them, he refused to take things easy when the manager wasn’t around.  Believing in the old adage, ‘a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’,  he was determined to keep his side of the bargain and kept on working despite recriminations from his less industrious peers.
Equally honest was the financial director of a large corporation, a God-fearing man who could spot anomalies on an expense sheet from 50 metres away. So, naturally, after lunching with prospective clients at a star-rated restaurant, he was the obvious person to scrutinise the bill. One sweep of his eagle eye was all it took for him to see the mistake – the omission of a rather pricy bottle of wine which, to the horror of his fellow directors, he was at pains to point out. 
Was he a killjoy? Overly pedantic?  Depends how you view it. Getting away with a free bottle of plonk may be something of a coup for some folk, no matter if the hapless waiter lost his job.  But, would taking advantage of a simple human error have impressed the potential clients? And, let’s face it, what better qualification could there be for anyone in finance than sheer, straight-down-the-line, honest-to-goodness integrity? (Whether we see much of this virtue these days is another matter!)
Let’s look at the other side of the coin. For over a decade, an anaesthetist renowned for his pioneering pain relief fabricated research results which appeared in leading medical publications. But why compromise himself in this way?  According to a former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, greed is certainly a factor:  “When researchers are beholden to [pharmaceutical] companies for much of their income, there is an incredible tendency to get results that are favourable to the company.”
Meanwhile, students are acquiring extra-curricular practices to ‘big up’ their skills. As highlighted by The New York Times, it seems many students will compromise ethics to achieve ambitions, intending to “follow a strict code of values” afterwards. For example, science students in Germany were discovered bribing their teachers in order to be recognised as Doctors.
Poor role models also play a part. Talking to The New York Times recently one professor states that high school students may be losing their moral compass: “It’s probably better to say that their teachers and mentors and the rest of society never helped them construct and internalize a moral compass in the first place.”
If supposedly respected individuals from government ministers to bishops fail to set a good example, little wonder younger people regard the rules as there to be broken, as demonstrated in a recent study. Out of nearly 30,000 students, 98 per cent believed honesty to be vital in personal relationships. Yet 8 out of 10 students said they’d lied to their parents, while 64 per cent admitted having cheated in an exam.
Be honest
Are you as trustworthy as you think you are? Ask yourself these questions:
·        You find a valuable piece of jewellery left on a washbasin in a public convenience. Would you hand it in at a police station or keep for yourself?
·        The cash machine is paying out more money than requested. Would you return the cash to the bank and report it, or go back for seconds?
·        At work or school, do you help yourself to pens, notepads and other stationery items to use at home, or do you ask permission first?
·        The newsagent gives you too much change. Do you take it back, or congratulate yourself on making a profit?
·        You’re out of work and claiming benefit. Then someone offers you £50 ($100) to paint their living room. Do you declare this to the benefit people, or keep it quiet?
·        Your boss asks you to lie about a product or service. Do you tell the truth and risk losing your job, or do you do as you are told?
·        You need to write an essay for college and time is running out. Do you find a piece online to copy and paste, or do you write the essay yourself even if it isn’t up to usual standard.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Should Christians vote?

During the last UK election, some Church of England clergy got in a lather over comedian Russell Brand’s urgings for young people ‘not to vote’.

Lining up alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Norwich Graham Jones - who believes Christians ‘have a duty to vote’ - tried to counter the ‘profound effects’ of Russell’s comments. And of course, the church's views were endorsed by many of its followers who obediently formed an orderly queue at their local polling booths. 

Now, people of all religions (and none) have done the same in the US, with Evangelicals, Catholics and Protestants of every hue jostling to put their unholy crosses against their Chosen One - Clinton or Trump. We all know the result. Yet, the question is NOT why so many professed Christians helped Trump to triumph, but whether they should be voting AT ALL? Is getting involved with worldly politics consistent with Christ's teachings? 

If you really want the answer, check out Jesus’ own words at John 17:14, 16 and John 18:36, in which he makes it clear that nether he nor his followers were to be any part of the world. Indeed, Jesus had already showed his own determination to resist political involvement of any kind, refusing to become an earthly king as the crowds demanded  – John 6:15. And he identified the REAL ruler of this world in John 14:30.  (See also 1 John 5:19).

According to The History of the Christian Religion and Church, During the Three First Centuries – Augustus Neander (translated by H J Rose) “The Christians stood aloof and distinct from the state, as a priestly and spiritual race, and Christianity seemed able to influence civil life only in that manner which, it must be confessed, is the purest, by practically endeavouring to instil more and more of holy feeling into the citizens of the state.”

It was, in fact, their steadfast refusal to take part in military service or national politics which caused early Christians so much persecution from the State. In fact, many of Jesus' followers preferred to die in the Roman arena, facing lions or being burnt at the stake, than to lend their support to the government of the day. It was not until the 4th century, when pagan Rome assimilated Christian teachings, that faith in God's heavenly government - for which Jesus taught his followers to pray - became obscured and many forgot where their true loyalty should lie. (Matthew 6:10)

Friday, 11 November 2016

Do you believe in Santa Claus?

       Believe it or not, there are millions of people who don’t. Yet one 6-year old at our local primary school was almost lynched recently after telling his classmates there was no such person.  
       In the interests of inclusivity, the same school once tried to rename the seasonal celebrations as ‘Winterval’ only to meet with howls of disapproval from its nominally Christian parents. Despite their own pew-eschewing ways, they proved surprisingly touchy about this issue.
       So what is Christmas and why do people feel obliged to re-mortgage their homes to celebrate it? Why do harassed Mums (sorry, but it’s usually Mums) spend hours preparing food that doesn’t get eaten and buying gifts that nobody wants?
       Some people (surprisingly not as many as you might think) point to the birth of Jesus - surely the world’s longest surviving infant, confined as he is to a cradle year after year. There’s just one small problem with that; Jesus wasn’t born on the 25th December, not by a long chalk. Bible scholars have been unable to find the date of his birth in any of the gospels; however, as Jesus was 33½ years old when he died, he must have been born around October/November, which makes sense, considering the shepherds were still living outdoors at the time.

Why December 25th?

       According to The Encyclopedia Americana, this date may have been chosen “to correspond to pagan festivals that took place around the time of the winter solstice, when the days began to lengthen, to celebrate the ‘rebirth of the sun’.” This also corresponds with the Roman Saturnalia (a festival to Saturn, the god of agriculture, and to the renewed power of the sun) and “some Christmas customs are thought to be rooted in this ancient pagan celebration.”
       The New Catholic Encyclopedia gives further information on the December solstice when, “as the sun began to return to northern skies, the pagan devotees of Mithra celebrated the dies natalis Solis Invicti (birthday of the invincible sun).”

Three Kings or Magi

       The exact number of these visitors from the east is not known. What is known, however, is that they were astrologers and the ‘star’ didn’t lead them to Jesus as is often supposed, but to King Herod, alerting him to the Messiah’s birth with devastating consequences. Herod immediately ordered the deaths of all males born in Bethlehem during the previous 2 years.

Santa Claus
Santa has several alter egos. St Nicholas, Father Christmas, Knecht Ruprecht, the Magi, Jultomten (or Julenissen) the elf, and even a witch called La Befana have all been credited with bringing gifts to children. As none of these stories are true, does presenting them as such help children develop an appreciation for truth in later life?
       Christmas trees, mistletoe, Yule logs, puddings and other seasonal accessories all have roots in pagan practices – either to protect against evil spirits or to encourage fertility, growth and general good fortune for the coming year.  Whether you embrace them or dispense with them is, of course, a matter of personal choice.

        But next time that annoying child at school insists there’s no such thing as Santa Claus, please don’t be too hard on him.


Thursday, 27 October 2016

Cut those bullies down to size

       Think of a bully and you might picture a thick-necked yobo who’d last several rounds with Mohammed Ali in his heyday. But not all bullies use their fists. Truth be told, the typical bully relies on their tongue, using sarcasm, ridicule and insults to make their target feel small.
       They don’t even need to be in the same vicinity to threaten or upset their victims. Mobile phones and social network sites are rife with abusive messages and cruel jokes at other people’s expense – often sent anonymously.
       Age is no object, either. While still at primary school, Rebecca* received a nasty letter, full of lies and innuendo, supposedly sent by a fellow pupil who also received a similar letter, supposedly from Rebecca. Their parents took the letters to school where the form teacher recognised the handwriting as that of another pupil in the same class, who in turn had been pressured into writing it while her ‘friend’, an 8-year-old girl, told her exactly what to say. Cunning, manipulative and designed to cause the maximum distress.
       Gender doesn’t come into it, nor does class; a public school pupil has as much chance of being bullied and harassed as someone attending a local comprehensive. But just because a problem may be unavoidable doesn’t mean it can’t be solved.
       Let’s just examine one or two motives of a potential bully. Some who cause misery may not even mean to hurt their victims, viewing their taunts as simple banter or what passes for humour. This kind of behaviour is common in large families where children may compete to get a rise out of each other or even to gain attention from parents – even negative attention is better than none.
       Some people have been brought up to be plain spoken. The area where I was born can be a particularly challenging place to live for sensitive types, as many people pride themselves, not only on their gritty sense of humour but on being rude and overly free with blunt personal remarks. Whether any malice is intended or not, the best way to handle this situation is to simply laugh or shrug it off. This way, any unpleasantness is deflected, as the perpetrator realises his/her words have no effect. He or she may be testing you out, to ‘see what you’re made of’, and will soon tire of the game if you fail to play along.  On the other hand, trading insults will only make matters worse, like throwing petrol on a fire! Refuse to let the bully enrage you and the fire will just die out. You'll also prove to the bully that you're not influenced by anything they have to say - what he or she really wants is a reaction. Don't give them the satisfaction!  They're the ones who are pathetic, not you!
       Should the bully threaten to get physical, of course, the wisest course is simply to walk away - or run if necessary. And if, but only if, there’s no other way out, then of course you have the right to defend yourself as best you can. Yet, surprisingly, your most powerful weapon in almost any situation is ‘mildness’. Keeping your cool is always the best answer to a bully who will view your self-control as a sign of strength, while a kind word can literally stop them in their tracks. Remember, a bully may be frustrated, insecure and desperately unhappy, and the last thing they expect is for people to be nice to them. 
       Clever bullies are often quite intuitive about their intended victims; always seeking out the people they perceive to be weak, shy and easily intimidated.  That’s why it’s good to have ‘attitude’. People who seem poised, confident and assertive rarely get picked on - they’re more likely to stick up for themselves - so by cultivating a self-assured air you can deflect a lot of adverse attention. Basically, most bullies are cowards; preferring victims whom they feel would never fight back.
       Bear in mind that no one, no one has the right to harass you and make your life a misery. If you receive threats and ridicule on a regular basis, you should talk to your parents and listen to their advice. Other people you can turn to are teachers or counsellors, who are usually trained to deal with problems firmly and discreetly, with no comeback on you. Failing that, there are Helplines you can call, where experts can guide you through your problems.
       Some pupils, particularly girls may face sexual harassment, which is perhaps easier to avoid in advance rather than having to deal with when it arises. For instance, any form of flirting is not advisable, as your ‘admirer’ may get jump to the wrong conclusions. Nor should you hang around with girls who tend to be forward with the opposite sex, as you’ll be viewed in the same light. The way you dress may also be a factor - if you can see down it, up it or through it, then you’re bound to get noticed, for all the wrong reasons! How you dress is often how you get treated!
       Both genders can be targeted and propositioned, in which case a firm, direct and unequivocal ‘No’ should be your determined response. Giggling or simpering, even in embarrassment, can create a false impression. Make it clear from the start that you’re not interested and you’ll save yourself a lot of hassle.
       If, in spite of all objections, someone tries to touch you inappropriately, don’t be afraid to make a scene. Yell at your attacker; tell him not to touch you in that way and chances are he’ll be too embarrassed to continue, especially in front of his mates. Should he persist, walking or running away may be necessary and if that doesn’t work, a smart blow to anyone who grabs you should make your feelings clear!  And, same as with any other bully, you need to tell your parents!
       Remember, you deserve to be treated with respect. Be determined not to give into threats, crumple under ridicule or allow anyone to harass you. Before starting a fresh term at school, write down different scenarios which could apply to you. Then plan how you would deal with a given situation – what you could say, how you should conduct yourself and how to avoid the problem in the first place. Discuss your plans with your parents, ask their opinions and ask them to rehearse with you. That way, you can be prepared. 

How to protect yourself: 
  • Cultivate self-respect and show confidence and poise
  • Refuse to respond to taunts or ridicule
  • Exercise self-control
  • Be firm and direct and make your ‘No’ mean ‘No’
  • Avoid associating with people who court attentions from the opposite sex
  • Don’t wear revealing clothes which send the wrong signals
  • Tell someone – especially parents and guardians

* See also "How to Beat a Bully Without Using Your Fists"[search_id]=8a3fa79a-9b90-414d-b767-08f116828aaf&insight[search_result_index]=0

From Bullied to Brilliant by Karen Clarke

Friday, 14 October 2016

Exorcism on the rise. Why?

Talk about reaping what you sow.

The Catholic Church is bewailing the alarming increase in exorcisms, which, with over half a million calls for help in one year, are overwhelming the Vatican’s anti-demon squad of just 10 ‘trained exorcists’.*

In Italy, there are 10 million people desperate to evict these unpleasant squatters. Church leaders will doubtless blame Hollywood, psychics of every ilk and Harry Potter, but completely ignore the original source of spiritistic practices, the Holy Roman Empire’s own doctrine:

The immortality of the human soul.

Anyone who’s prepared to examine the Bible in any depth will find that this belief – that we all have a separate, invisible being within us that survives the body after death – is in no way supported by scripture. Death is described as a state of unconsciousness, a dreamless sleep, while the hope for the future is a physical resurrection to life on earth.

We don’t have souls – we ARE souls.

I hope all those sad, tormented people find the help they need and that, with accurate knowledge, will turn away from the occult.

As for the Church – along with virtually ALL world religions – they really should review their teachings which have misled the entire human race for so long.


See also:

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Halloween - Trick or Treat?

       The shops are full of it. Ghouls, ghosts, zombies and a whole array of devilish guises including (briefly) a ‘mental patient’ outfit featuring a white blood-spattered coat with a tastefully matching blood-spattered axe. Introduced a couple of years ago, this item was quickly removed after a storm of protest. but, with real-life horror viewed daily on-screen, it may now have become acceptable!

       Parents and grandparents are stocking up on candies to meet the young extortionists who’ll soon be knocking at the door. Pumpkins are carved for lanterns, apples prepared for ducking and treacle toffee is poured into trays to give dental practitioners a boost.

       Yes, it’s Halloween, a night of mischief and harmless fun for all the family.  Or is it? Where does this feast originate and why is it so prevalent today?

       According to The Encyclopedia Americana, “Elements of the customs connected with Halloween can be traced to a Druid ceremony in pre-Christian times. The Celts had festivals for two major gods – a sun god and a god of the dead (called Samhain), whose festival was held on November 1, the beginning of the Celtic New Year. The festival of the dead was gradually incorporated into the Christian ritual.”

       “Halloween,” says The Encyclopedia of American Folklore, “is integrally related to the prospect of contact with spiritual forces, many of which threaten or frighten.” Certainly, many of the customs involved have close links to ancestor worship  and are meant to ward off or appease wicked spirits. The Celts, for instance, wore scary masks in the belief that evil spirits would think the wearers were spirits too - and leave them alone.

       In the 7th century CE, Pope Boniface IV is thought to have adopted ‘Samhain’ as an annual event to honour martyrs, renaming it All Saints Day or All Hallows’ Day. (Hallow is an ancient word for ‘saint’). The evening before this celebration was called All Hallow Even, which later became Halloween, making some Christians throughout the world feel comfortable celebrating it. 
Origins of Halloween
But the real roots of Halloween are far more sinister, dating back to the Flood of Noah’s day.*  In his book, The Worship of the Dead, Colonel J Garnier explains: “The mythologies of all the ancient nations are interwoven with the events of the Deluge…..illustrated by the fact of the observance of a great festival of the dead in commemoration of the event, not only by nations more or less in communication with each other, but by others widely separated, both by the ocean and by centuries of time.

       ‘This festival is, moreover, held by all on or about the very day on which, according to the Mosaic account, the deluge took place, viz., the seventeenth day of the second month – the month nearly corresponding with our November.”  In effect, Halloween began by honouring people whom God had destroyed due to their wickedness in Noah’s day. (Gen 6:5-7; 7:11)

       Also destroyed by the Deluge were the Nephilim, sons of disobedient angels who left their heavenly positions and took human bodies for themselves in order to mate with beautiful women. These hybrids were known as ‘fellers’ (in the tree-toppling sense!) due to their immense size and violent tendencies, and, along with their superhuman sires, could well be the source of legends of beings with immense powers. Move over X-Men!

       Halloween is celebrated on 31st October throughout the USA and Canada, and its continued spread across the world delights pagan adherents. Thousands of Wiccans, for example, following the old Celtic rituals, still refer to the event as ‘Samhain’, regarding it as the most sacred night of their calendar.

       To the demons, of course, it is a time of mourning for their human wives and unnatural offspring as they serve their time in Tartarus, unable ever again to take on human form. They do retain, however, paranormal powers which they use to influence, deceive and intimidate people - especially those who are drawn to the occult and pagan celebrations such as Halloween. 

*For more about the flood, see: 

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Social media - avoiding the pitfalls

       It’s some years now since I posted my very first Tweet on Twitter and, following the advice of a best-selling online novelist, managed to get myself suspended on the very first day (must be a record!). The Twitter team thought I was a spammer; me, I put it down to enthusiasm.       

       Since then, I’ve become a little more circumspect and, on the whole, it’s been a positive experience; for me, Twitter works well. 

Proceed with caution

       Like any modern invention, there’s an upside and a downside. The ups are obvious – social networks are brilliant marketing tools, a great way to meet people from hugely diverse backgrounds, to keep in touch with friends, and to find out what’s happening around the world. Linking up can be exciting, refreshing and educational. 

       The downside? Well, one problem has already been mentioned; once logged into the site, it’s extremely hard to log out again, especially if you work from home as I do. When on Twitter, the hours just fly, the next chapter lies unfinished, and the dinner plates are still in the sink. How children with homework get on, I shudder to think. But there are more worrying factors which can affect all of us – and which can apply to virtually any use of the internet.

Loss of privacy

       Twitter has around 500 million followers, while Facebook subscribers total almost 1 billion. Every message sent has the potential to go viral within seconds and we have no control over who has access to personal information. Fraudsters, burglars, cynical marketers and even abusers can exploit such information to our detriment. On a local scale, many a teenager has posted details of a forthcoming party only to be swamped by unwanted guests looking to cause trouble.

       In her book, CyberSafe, Gwenn Schurgin O’Keefe points out that “large websites back up their databases. What we put on cyberspace never truly goes away. We have to consider it permanent because there is likely to be a copy somewhere; to think otherwise is foolish.”

Bad associates

       Young people are particularly vulnerable to online bullying, from schoolmates with a grievance to total strangers, sometimes with tragic consequences; reports of children being driven to despair, self-harm, anorexia and even suicide bear witness to the damage caused by haters and trolls.  Some children have arranged to meet ‘friends’ their own age, only to find the person waiting for them is neither a friend nor a day under 40! And every time they go online, there’s always the danger of inadvertently accessing websites featuring porn or violence. 

       These issues are – at least should be – obvious. But what about more subtle factors, such as:

Loss of reputation

       A recent article compared a person’s reputation with a shiny new car. Suppose you own the latest model with flawless paintwork; you take it for a spin but, due to a momentary lapse in concentration, you crash into a ditch, leaving the vehicle a total write-off?

       That’s what can happen to your reputation. A momentary lapse in discretion, a compromising photograph or a careless remark can quickly dent other people’s opinion of you. Families will forgive, true friends will understand, but what about potential employers? Often, the first thing they do on receiving an application is check out your Facebook account – would  that picture of you mooning or leering drunkenly into the camera mark you out as a suitable candidate? According to Dr B J Fogg, author of Facebook for Parents, the answer would be ‘No’. He’s just one of millions who checks Facebook pages as “part of my due diligence. If I can access an applicant’s Profile and see junky things, then I’m not impressed. I won’t hire that person.” Why? “Because people who work with me need excellent judgment.” 

       Certainly, people tend to be less inhibited on social networks, and that applies to your comments too. What may seem innocuous or hilarious to you may be a big turn-off for others. Bad language, off-colour jokes and insulting remarks may trip easily from your fingers as you type, but are they really impressing anybody? Are they as witty as you think, or simply sad? And if they’re suggestive, you may attract the wrong kind of followers. Remember too that others can post comments on your page. As one 19-year old says: “Sometimes people post comments with bad words or double meanings. Even though you’re not the one who said it, it reflects poorly on you because it’s your page.”

Avoid the pitfalls

       Before signing up for a social network, it’s good to set a few boundaries. Look at the potential dangers, decide how best to avoid them and create rules that will protect you from any fallout. Here are a few suggestions which I try to apply myself: 

1)   Be careful what you post and only do so when sober! If you wouldn’t like your parents to see those photographs or comments, why make them available to total strangers? Or worse – prospective employers! When texting, remember your manners. Try to ensure that every remark is gracious, ‘seasoned with salt’. 
2)   Check your privacy settings, as the default settings on the network site may let more people view your page than you imagine. It’s a good idea to customise your settings so only close friends can access your posts. Even then, you need to watch that you don’t give out more information than intended. 
3)   Should you receive a critical or negative response, don’t retaliate. If the criticism is well-meant, thank the sender for his/her interest. Ignore abusive comments and block them from your page along with any that make you feel uncomfortable. The same goes for dubious would-be followers or ‘friends’. Be selective and never open links from anyone you feel unsure of. Some may be pornographic or violent.
4)   Social websites are constantly buzzing with gossip, rumours and opinions about people in the public eye. Be determined never to write derogatory personal remarks about anyone, famous or not, even if they seem to deserve it – after all, who are we to judge? Failing to observe this rule may, at best make you seem spiteful, and at worst get you sued for libel! 
5)   Remember your details are accessible to millions of people, including some who know you, so guard your privacy. Don’t give out too much personal information such as home address, email address, where you attend school, work or college, when you’re at home, when and where you’re going, when you’re at home, when nobody is at home, your photos, opinions, likes, dislikes and hobbies and innermost thoughts. 

6)   Set limits for the time you spend on social networks and stick to them. Doing this will help you control your online activities instead of letting them control you. And if social networks start to take you over, and you find yourself thinking constantly about your tweets, blogs and profiles, then switch them off. Or simply take a break from them, like these teenagers: 

       “I deactivated my account, and I had heaps of time. I felt free! Recently, I reactivated my account, but I have complete control. I don’t check it for days at a time. Occasionally I even forget about it. If my social networking account becomes a problem again, I’ll just deactivate my account.” 

       “I have taken ‘networking breaks,’ where I deactivate my account for a couple of months and then reactivate it later. I do that whenever I realize that I’ve been spending too much time with it. Now I don’t feel as attached to it as I used to. I’ll use it for a purpose, but then I’m done.”  

      By taking sensible precautions and rationing the time we spend on social network, we can use it with confidence -without filching too much attention from more important activities.

       As for me, I feel quite an old hand now - in fact, it's a source of satisfaction to see some of my (very techie) website designer friends are only just getting started! And, of course, with time, I've become more atuned to potential problems and a lot more careful about whom I follow. 

       My personal  'no nos' include profiles with no tweets; tweets containing sexual references or bad language of any kind; profiles with no pictures or other personal touches; tweets which appear in one's timeline with no message -just a link; people with zillions of followers; direct messages (except for confidential info from a trusted contact); and anyone famous (who rarely write their own tweets!)

       And here's an apology to anyone who has kindly retweeted me but to whom I haven't yet returned the compliment. Some of you are obviously lovely people and I'll always try to RT if I possibly can - especially if you're a writer. However, there are certain things I will not promote, such as erotica or the occult. I also try to remain neutral with regard to race, nationalism and party politics.   

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Roots joins the jet set!

Extract from The Runaway Children, when the Hadwins, Laurel and Roots take to the water on a souped up narrow boat! 

"Quick!" cried Jo "Switch on the engine!" Miles ran to the back of the barge and slipped the key into the lock. As soon as he turned it, the barge set off at an amazingly spanking pace for such a heavy vessel. Roots had just untied the rope from its mooring and was now trotting alongside with it on the towpath.
"Hey! That's them!" bawled one of the trench coats and started running towards the Judith Rose.
 "They've seen us!" Roots yelled.  "Press the Booster, Miles!"  He was just about to hop on board as Miles touched the large red button. This caused the barge to lunge forward at such an incredible speed, it yanked the unfortunate Roots off the towpath. "Sack this!!" he hollered, clinging desperately to the rope, his feet wafting in the air behind him. "Sack this for a Kleenex full of bogies!"
"Supersonic!" whooped Miles and he waved his fist above his head as the barge blazed along the canal, sending ducks and fishermen diving for cover. "Wit woos!"
Meanwhile, Roots had recovered his balance sufficiently to press his heels into the water and lean backwards like a skier. "Look at me!" he cried, jubilantly. "I've joined the jet set!"

The Runaway Children by Jacy Brean is available to download from Amazon and other online booksellers

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Bring back courtship!

       Some years ago, my darling daughter (DD) came home from college in a strop! “That Joe Taylor!”
       From the tone of her voice, Joe Taylor had obviously done something despicable. “It’s so insulting!” she growled, “All the girls are fuming about it!”
       The ‘it’ in question was a list, drawn up by Joe, which rated each girl in his group according to ‘how fit she was’. This naturally caused quite a stir. Yet, despite my initial feminist sensibilities, I quite admired Joe Taylor. For the next few weeks, he became the focus of attention with every girl trying desperately (but unsuccessfully) to discover her score. Let’s be honest, not many guys can get so many girls so interested in their opinion.  
       Did the list even exist? If not, it wouldn't surprise me. Joe, who later went up to Oxford, was an extremely clever young man with his eye set on a political career – in which such tactics would doubtless prove useful.
       But would they work on any female over 16 with any self-esteem?  
       I'd like to think not!

Being top of the list is not enough.

       Being Number One infers there’s a Number Two and a Number Three and countless other numbers. A man with more than one woman in his sights is not ready for a serious relationship. A man with a list is STILL LOOKING. And a woman with any self-esteem wants to be NOT Number One but THE One, the One and Only.
       Sadly, an ever-widening choice of partners and the willingness of both sexes to hook up with whoever takes their fancy has made intimacy as meaningful in modern times as a trip to the public urinal. Sowing wild oats is a rite of passage, along with social diseases, unwanted pregnancies, broken marriages, loneliness, lovelessness, depression and heartbreak.
       So what’s the solution? Maybe we should all take a giant leap back into the past. True, previous generations saw injustice, poverty and exploitation (just like today), but they got at least one aspect of their life correct.


       Courtship wasn’t just for the upper and middle classes. Every level of society craved respectability, to have a good marriage with a good person.
       In Jane Austen’s day, young couples enjoyed chaste activities under the watchful eyes of their chaperones. Instead of rapidly shrinking hemlines and necklines, the hint of an ankle was as far as it went. Extreme, maybe, but many a strong marriage was formed by exercising self-control.
       Of course, in many ways women are better off these days, but the very fact they are no longer dependent on fathers and husbands makes it even easier to hold oneself worthy – to view oneself as more than a number on a checklist!

A few tips from Jane Austen

Don’t hold yourself cheap.

Never get ‘picked up’, accept a one-night stand or indulge in casual sex.

Make sure you know the person fairly well – make friends with him before dating.

For that first date, arrange to meet in a neutral environment where there are people.

Introduce him to family and friends - and expect him to do the same with you.

Avoid putting yourself in compromising situations – parked cars, empty apartments or lonely parks.

Remember, if he truly cares for and respects you, he’ll be prepared to wait.....

And want you for his One and Only!!!