Sunday, April 04, 2004

Their faces shone and they were gone and I was left alone. I walked these ancient empire streets till I came tearful to my home.


Where can I start?

I've mentioned in posts before about those times in life when you realise that, despite your concerns, there are good people out there and maybe, just maybe, everything will turn out for the best.

This feeling, that has hit me on protest marches, and up on Glastonbury Hill, was with me again this weekend.

I was at my first VSO training course this weekend. Entitled "Preparing for Change" it was a chance to weigh up the difference that working as a volunteer overseas would have on my life. It was an excellent course. I had feared that it would be an experience in group hugs and getting to know my inner self - but it wasn't. And while there was a certain amount of embarassing role-playing activities I never felt too uncomfortable.

The more I learn about VSO the more I respect what they are trying to do. There is no level of old-colonialism, there's no overblown desire for individuals to change the world and no pressure on the volunteers to become mini-heroes in their own fields. Instead they just want people to help whatever way they can. They want to place you with jobs, and in circumstances, that you can deal with. You are there to assist local people and to learn from them as much as you share your own expertise.

This is not about white English people dictating how non-Westerners should live their lives.

On the face of it, the volunteers are all very different people. In my course group there was a retired teacher, a probation worker, a gas fitter, a doctor and me - the PR man.

We had travelled there from various points in England, Scotland, Wales, Italy, France and even Australia. Like I said, we couldn't be more different.

But then we were let off the leash for an evening and we went to the pub. The beers flowed.

And it turns out they are just like me after all.

As a case in point, somehow we got on to conspiracy theories and regular Space Hardware visitors will know how they fascinate me. You will also recall that launching into conspiracy theories can sometimes encourage some very odd looks.

However, as I started to tell of my interest in 911 and the discrepancies in the accepted truth of the situation, there were nodding heads. Another person brought up the evidence that suggested Libya maybe wasn't to blame for the Lockerbie bombing. Before long we had touched on JFK, Bilderberg, Afghanistan, Iraq, Chile, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Not forgetting my favourite - the moonlanding conspiracies.

Somebody brought up Bill Hicks, another mentioned John Pilger. I was sitting drinking with people who not only knew what the hell I was talking about, they also shared my fascinations. I was surprised also that a good number of them had taken the decision to join VSO as a reaction to being less than proud to be British right now. You see 911 and it's aftermath has touched all our lives. But there are people out there who are motivated by these circumstances to actually help people rather than resorting to fighting terror with terror.

The best conversations you ever have in life can be with virtual strangers. And the best conversations with virtual strangers are the "me too" discussions. You know the ones - "...that's your favourite song....ME TOO! I thought I was the only person who had ever heard of it."


"You went where? I went there. I can't believe you were in the same place. I think it's the most beautiful place in the world too."

There can be few more beautiful feelings than empathy. While some of the younger volunteers were treating it as something of a gap year the rest of us were pretty much of a similar mind. We had all come to the same conclusions that what we wanted in life was to live it on our own terms.

These people weren't sickly twee types either. From what I've heard this weekend, VSO volunteers shag like rabbits and drink like fish. I met up with up with Leeds bloke that I met on my assessment day. We were the only ones, from that day, that had appeared to make it through the selection process. What's more, you could safely say that the pair of us were the least Mother Theresa-like of all the applicants.

But we were there. And that does my self confidence the world of good.

I found that while I was with these people that, much like when I was travelling, I too became a better person. A more interesting person and even a funnier person. I can be a miserable, cynical individual at times but I don't think I voiced a negative sentiment all weekend. Neither did anyone else and in that environment you come out your shell a little more. It felt good.

I also came to another realisation over the weekend. I had planned to rent out my house while I was away. I've changed my mind. I'm going to sell it. Newcastle property prices have boomed and hopefully can't go any higher. While I am away I want my efforts focused on my task in hand and I don't want to be worrying about my Tyneside pad. I also don't want to burden parents with managing it.

I won't be putting the profits into shares either. I've already learnt before, the hard way, that city cowboys are not to be trusted with my cash. And besides the last thing I want is my money being used to help prop up grubby multinationals.

The money can go in a bank and I'll take what interest I can get. Then, in two years, when I return I can once more reassess where my life will go from there.

I have a real feeling that my life is on track. Just as I was mulling over these thoughts on my way back on the train this evening, I came across a passage in the new Bill Hicks book "Love all the People".

I can't decide whether to stop my tedious quoting of Hicks, or to stop apologising for it, but here goes:

"Here's the good news - I finally realised who it is I am, and I no longer chase the carrot, and I have no more hoops to jump through. I only have those things to share with those who are willing or interested.

"Let me tell you what a relief it is to finally know who you are! The weight of the world has literally been lifted from my shoulders, and now I see new hope and new happiness being born everyday. And strangely enough, new opportunities are coming at me all the time. Be yourself and all else will follow. It's really that easy. And what effort does it take to be yourself?

I digested those sentiments while surfing my wave of VSO-inspired euophoria. It was another strong hit of empathy.

Just when I thought my mood couldn't go up a notch, I bought the Observer. Right there in the middle of the double-page article on weblogging there was a little box of the "best weblogs". And at the bottom was Space Hardware.

Now, I have a hunch that the rather fantastic Moi, who was featured in the piece, had pointed them in my direction. And for that Moi you have the gratitude of a very happy man.

Weblogging has become an obsession with me. Democracy can only survive if people are given real information. Right now, in this respect, the mainstream media is failing us.

The good news is, countering this, is a huge army of webloggers which is now making its own culture and its own news and is setting its own agenda.

I am proud to be a part of it and may its influence continue to grow. I was equally proud to be named in the Guardian today. I am well aware that it will be tomorrow's chip wrappers but it made my day and will no doubt add to this current springy steppyness for some time to come.

Finally just when you think that life can't get any better....

I got tickets for Glastonbury too.

This is the luckiest man in the world signing off.

Love, light and peace,


I saw two shooting stars last night I wished on them but they were only satellites. It's wrong to wish on space hardware. I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care.