Thursday, 11 May 2017

Fifty not out!

Well who would have thunk it... we are at episode 50 of The Existential Files already! What do you mean you haven't listened? There have been laughs, tears, head-hurting discussions on why the universe exists and our place within it, and a swear word or two.  All in the name of, well... nothing really. It just seemed a good idea at the time. 

All credit to Louie who has been tirelessly recording and uploading these, as well as finding a fantastic array of guests who have joined us. We've spoken to philosophers, physicists, psychologists, and ghost-hunters (don't ask).  And we have only just begun. Go take a listen. 

Monday, 27 February 2017

Panda song

What can I say, she loves pandas... This is audio only (with a pic at the beginning). A touch on the surreal side, though proud that she went to the bother of recording herself and uploading to YouTube. Love her. You'll all be singing it tomorrow...

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Consciousness explained (!)

Louie and I are continuing at a pace with our conversations as part of The Existential Files. Available on iTunes and YouTube. Some of these conversations take place while I find myself in a room with a whiteboard, and so I make a few notes. 

Below are my notes from a podcast conversation last week (in fact, it was split across two episodes) in which we were joined by Peter Hankins who, among other things is the author of a blog called Conscious Identities. Not surprisingly, our focus of this podcast was on 'consciousness'. That old chestnut. You can get a sense of how these notes emerge by listening here and here


Friday, 24 February 2017

Lee Mack on a cloud (as though in a panto)

As part of a course we are currently running at the University, we asked the students to keep a dream diary for a week. The idea was that we, the tutors, would also keep the cream diary so that we had dream report to share at the next teaching session.

Of course, for the first three days of the week, I completely forgot. By the fourth day I endeavoured to remember that night's dream* and make a note of what I could remember in the morning. It turned out to be the only dream that week that I remembered and was simply noted in my dream diary as 'Lee Mack on a cloud (as though in a panto)". That's all that I could remember. Hardly profound, and I don't know what Freud would have made of it ("Who ze fuck ist Lee Mack...?!").

In preparation of writing this blog post, I thought I'd ask a certain Dr Savva (who is a dab hand with PaintShop), to mock up a pic of Lee Mack on a cloud (as though in a panto). He duly did. And what I love about that is when I typed the request into Whatsapp, he simply responded, "yeah, sure". No questions asked. 

Lee Mack on a Cloud (as though in a panto) 
* I'm toying with the iPad's facility for turning voice to text as a supposedly quicker way to write some of these blog posts. Of course it doesn't always hear quite what you say. For "night's dream" it changed it to "night stream". Perhaps a good analogy for a dream? A night stream? Please yourself. 

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Learn colours with Bing

In a slight departure from the usual intellectual discourse on this blog (!), I post here a never before seen piece of footage of Freya and Connie learning colours with Bing (think slightly slow but loveable bunny character who wears dungarees). If you need some kind of justification, you might consider this as a critical commentary on modern society and the nature of user-generated content on the web and what kids these days will happily watch for hours on end. Or you could just watch quietly and learn your colours. Up to you. :-)

Saturday, 18 February 2017

It's a love thang...

A belated happy Valentine's Day! Earlier in the week I, perhaps foolishly, spent a chunk of my Valentine's Day chatting to Dr Savva. We recorded a couple of podcasts exploring 'love'. Louie, being the efficient person that he is (and because he has bugger all else to do... joke, Louie, joke*), uploaded these quickly. You can listen on iTunes here (episodes 17 and 18).

As I found myself in a room with a whiteboard (gotta love a whiteboard!), I made a few notes:

*He really does have bugger all else to do.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

The Existential Files on iTunes!

My partner in existential crime, Dr Louie Savva, has been busy cutting and uploading recordings of our podcast conversations and submitting to iTunes. Good man, Louie! As of today episodes 1-10 available. More on their way...! You can also listen via YouTube

It's Groundhog Day!

From the archives :-)
Every year, on February 2nd, the world's media (or rather a small proportion of it) turns its attention to the small town of Punxsutawney in Pennsylvania, USA. In particular they go there to observe a character called Punxsutawney Phil. Phil is a groundhog. But not just any groundhog... Phil is a special groundhog, because legend has it he has an uncanny ability to predict how long winter is going to last. According to his very own website,
"At sunrise, Phil will emerge from his burrow at Gobbler's Knob, and his handlers will announce whether or not Phil has seen his shadow. If Phil sees his shadow, legend has it that we can expect six more weeks of winter weather. No shadow indicates an early spring."
Back in 2001, one guy, an economist, even undertook some kind of analysis of Phil's forecasting data and concluded that over the years he had been around 70% successful and predicting either an early or late Spring.

That's all very well, but the thing that actually interests me about this rather strange tradition is the 1993 movie Groundhog Day that's based around this rather quaint annual event. In the film Bill Murray plays TV weather forecaster Phil Connors who is assigned to cover the event for something like the third or fourth year running. Connors is, to say the least, fairly cynical about the whole thing and can't wait till the piece is done so he can get the hell out of Punxsutawney and back to civilization. The trouble is, a blizzard means that all routes out of Punxsutawney are blocked and so he has to stay there for a second night. The next morning he is woken up at 6am, just like the morning before, by the same song on the radio (Sonny and Cher's I Got You Babe). He initially thinks that the local radio presenters must have simply forgotten to change the script from the previous morning, but slowly as he goes about his day he realizes that he is actually living the previous day again. It's still Groundhog Day! Eventually the end of the day comes again and he's back in his hotel bed (because just as with the previous day a blizzard prevents him from leaving town). At 6am the next morning he wakes again to the same song on the radio! And so it goes on... every morning he awakes only to relive Groundhog Day. Imagine that! Imagine having to live the same day over and over and over again. Once the realization sets in that no matter what he does, Phil Connors is going to relive the same day again and again he even tries a variety of ways of killing himself... only to find himself waking up at 6am on Groundhog Day to the sound of I Got You Babe. There's no way out.

Eventually Connors resigns himself to the fact he is going to have to relive Groundhog Day ad infinitum, and so starts throwing himself into his recurrent daily activities. By doing this he finds he actually enjoys having the opportunity to relive the events of the day again and again and discovers that he can learn from his earlier encounters with the day's events. The question is, will he ever live to see the day that follows Groundhog Day or is he destined to remain in this day for ever? And do you ever get that feeling you've been here before?

Monday, 30 January 2017

Scare away the dark

A song that is being played on a fairly regular basis at Smith HQ is Scare Away the Dark by Passenger. Here are the lyrics reproduced (without permission) from

Well, sing, sing at the top of your voice
Love without fear in your heart
Feel, feel like you still have a choice
If we all light up we can scare away the dark

We wish our weekdays away
Spend our weekends in bed
Drink ourselves stupid
And work ourselves dead
And all just because that's what mom and dad said we should do

We should run through the forests
We should swim in the streams
We should laugh, we should cry
We should love, we should dream
We should stare at the stars and not just the screens
You should hear what I'm saying and know what it means

To sing, sing at the top of your voice
Love without fear in your heart
Feel, feel like you still have a choice
If we all light up we can scare away the dark

Well, we wish we were happier, thinner and fitter
We wish we weren't losers and liars and quitters
We want something more not just nasty and bitter
We want something real not just hashtags and Twitter

It's the meaning of life and it's streamed live on YouTube
But I bet Gangnam Style will still get more views
We're scared of drowning, flying and shooters
But we're all slowly dying in front of fucking computers

So sing, sing at the top of your voice
Oh, love without fear in your heart
Can you feel, feel like you still have a choice
If we all light up we can scare away the dark

And oh, oh, oh oh, oh, oh no
Oh, oh, oh oh, oh, oh no
Oh, oh, oh oh, oh, oh no
Sing it out now
Oh, oh, oh oh, oh, oh no
Sing it out now
Oh, oh, oh oh, oh, oh no
Sing it out now
Oh, oh, oh oh, oh, oh no

Well sing, sing at the top of your voice

Love without fear in your heart

Feel, feel like you still have a choice

If we all light up we can scare away the dark

These are the lyrics as the song appears on the album Whispers, and it is a rousing anthem to play on a Monday morning (or indeed any time of any day). To give you a sense of how the song sounds, I hereby embed the official video for the song:

This version is good, though not quite as good as the album version (as represented by the lyrics above). Can you spot the difference? 

Friday, 27 January 2017

Butterflies and bunnies are awake all night

 See that picture? As you can see it is the front cover of a book. It is one of Connie's books and she refers to it as her 'clever clogs' book (Connie is 3) . She was just reading the title to me. Whereas you or I might think that the book seems to be called the Usborne First Illustrated Science Dictionary, Connie has just read those words to me. She tells me that it says Butterflies and Bunnies Are Awake All Night. So there you go. 


Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The Existential Files

It is a little known fact that this blog, in its earlier incarnation as The Diary of a Spiritual Junkie, was at least partly inspired by the blog of my friend and colleague, Louie Savva. His blog was, and still is, the brilliantly titled Everything is Pointless ( 

I'm sure, as time progresses, I will say more about the ideas that Louie, now Dr Louie Savva (yay!), has shared on his blog, however for now I want to say just two things. First, after a 9 year hiatus I am pleased to note that Louie has resurrected his blog and is now blogging again (yay again!), and second, this recent acitivity has led to Louie and I joining forces, as it were, to begin work on what some are calling a 'podcast'. And so, I am proud to share here a link to an emerging playlist of said podcast that is going under the title of The Existential Files:

As will become apparent, if you choose to listen, we will use the conversations to explore a wide range of topics that might broadly fall under the heading of 'existential' in nature. These might include: the nature of existence; why we are here; how we decide what is 'worth' doing; evolution; science; philosophy; religion; and most importantly the artistic merit of if the TV sitcom Birds of a Feather. Anyway, it passes the time. :-)

I also feel the need to say please be aware that we are talking about topics that matter to us both dearly. This means at times we may find that we censor our language less than we might. I am aware that in at least some of the episodes there is swearing that, at the time of writing, we have not edited out. In fact, we do eventually record a conversation about the idea of 'offensiveness'. I'm not sure if that will become an episode in its own right or if it will simply be a conversation that has allowed Louie and I to openly explore this side of things.  Either way, please note that this is something that we are acutely aware of (or at least I am!). 

By the way, during this first episode you hear me mention I begin to jot down on a whiteboard some of the topics as we discuss them. This is what it looked like at the end of the recording: 


Sunday, 22 January 2017

Sit Down Sunday

You must be tired after all that standing up yesterday? Time to take a rest on what the cooler kids are calling 'Sit Down Sunday'. Feel free to interpret as you wish... you might see it as the invitation to pause a while in that comfy armchair of yours and watch the world pass by. You might also interpret this in the way the popular music combo James did in their song that reached number 3 in the Hit Parade:

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Stand Up Saturday

Continuing what is becoming a theme. Let's make today 'Stand Up Saturday'? A day to Stand Up for what you believe in. A day to Stand Up for what you feel in your heart to be right. A day to Stand Up for Yourself.
There is plenty already happening around the globe today along these lines. What will you do? 

Friday, 20 January 2017

F**k It Friday

One week on from Friday the 13th (unlucky day, aggh!) and at the end of the week that brought us 'Blue' Monday (unhappy day, boohoo!), we have F**k It Friday. 

If you need some rules explained, then carry on as you were. The rest of us, you know what to do. Enjoy and share if you wish! #FkItFriday (apparently #F**kItFriday don't work :-/). 

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Fart in a Bucket Tuesday!

After Friday the 13th last week, and Blue Monday, yesterday was a far more uplifting day. It was a day that free from superstition, PR spin, and pseudo-scientific equations. 

It was, of ourse, Fart In a Bucket Tuesday! (#FIBT). The only rule of #FIBT was to play from your heart. Say it how it is. Be true. And spread the love. Or in the words of one key person of influence, a day of saying F**k It Big Time!

Update 18 Jan 2017: Here at #FIBT HQ, we were pleased to see the sentiment of #FIBT spill over to the following day. Remember, saying it how it is is not just for Tuesdays. It's for any day of the week!

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Parallel Worlds

As I return to this blog, I discover a small number of draft posts that I made a start on and then left. Like so many 'projects', they don't get finished. I was drawn to one post under the title Parallel Worlds. It had one sentence:

I really don't enjoy marking. Especially when the weather outside is so gloriously warm and sunny

Just that one sentence. Followed by clip below from a brilliant documentary called Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives. In fact, it appears to be the first part of what I remember was an hour long documentary. The date of the draft post was 25 May 2012. That was my mum's 72nd birthday.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Smoke or don't smoke


Some years ago, in what feels like a previous lifetime, I used to smoke. In fact, in the archives/annals/bowels of this blog you will find a blog post or two noting this. Whilst there were times when I really did enjoy a cigarette (such as after the first sip of a pint of beer...), by and large I wasn't a 'natural' smoker. I smoked, but I felt I perhaps shouldn't smoke. I knew it was bad for me, it cost money I couldn't really afford, and it made my hair and clothes smell. But still I smoked.

A dear friend of mine then said, "smoke, or don't smoke...". I asked him to say more. "Smoke, or don't smoke... it's  a choice.  But, if you choose to smoke, don't feel guilty. Either smoke and be OK with it, don't smoke and be OK with it." Years later, it is a phrase I find I am using in a range of contexts.

Mystery solved... Kinda


It was over a year ago that I had noted that a bank near me, or at least someone who worked at the bank, seemed to place a card in the window each morning. I didn't know why. Yesterday, I found out why. Kind of.

After many months of walking past the bank and feeling reassured that there would be another card in the window, I decided to finally give into my curiosity and enter the bank. I'm normally walking past at a time before the bank has opened, but yesterday I was walking past just as it turned 9:30. Opening time. 

There was no queue. Straight up to the bank desk.

"Morning...", I fumble as the bank clerk makes eye contact, "...bit of an odd one this. I've been walking past the bank each morning and I notice that a different playing card appears in the window every day. I was just wondering, well, why...?". Silence. The bank clerk stares back at me.

"Er..." her eyes soften as she thinks what to say. Maybe she doesn't know. Maybe she neither knows nor cares. She sheepishly looks to her left to her colleague who is emptying bags of cash into the drawer in front of her (or whatever bank clerks do first thing of a morning). This one also stares back at me. But she's more decisive.

"It's part of our security processes. That's all we can say." And she flashes a quick smile before the steely look returns. And with that, I feel suitably ushered out. 

So mystery solved. Kind of. It's part of our security processes. But what does that mean? Does each card have a different meaning? Who puts it up? Whatever it means, it feels a bit low-tech doesn't it?