Marriage – your views please!

Jammy Samira Swing Olly edit

Messiah of the Slums, my novel out Easter ’14, is a ghetto love story. “Love never dies, Jamal,” the eponymous heroine tells the drug dealer who wants to marry her.


is the subject I am researching for my next article, Marriage has many pains … and (in the future) a book.  I’m looking at the place marriage has today is our society, emotions and behaviour. 

 Why am I asking? Well, as the author of a love story (which is coming out this Easter), I have a vested interest in matters of the heart.  And Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so it’s hard to avoid the subject of romance right now! 

Whether you have a positive or negative view of marriage, it doesn’t matter: I’m just keen to hear your thoughts. The more honest, the better! Gay and straight readers, have your say.

Red say I love you!

Whether you’re an arch sceptic or gushing romantic, I’m interested in your views on the subject of marriage! Post them in the Reply Box below, or email me through the contact form below.

 The following poll questions about marriage are shaped by the responses  which I have had so far from live interviews, and my Facebook and Twitter posts.

All you need is love? Two couples who made it despite sex, drugs and rock & roll.

All you need is love?

Thanks so much for reading this far – and perhaps responding to the poll. Do get in touch via this contact form – it would be great to hear from you.


This Face Screams: it’s all made up!


The gravitational force that drags down whole stars, meteors and planets, will not be countered by a pot of cream.

Assuming that most people would find hanging upside down for hours each day impracticable, gravity is the inescapable and significant force in ageing for us all. As well as cellular (therefore musculature) degradation over time, the simple physical fact that the earth exerts a pull on our bodies means that, over time, things go south. The gravitational force that drags down whole stars, meteors and planets, will not be countered a pot of cream.

male grooming

Men believe in it all, too.

Nonetheless we remain as eager as ever to believe that a face cream really can lift our skin. So fervent is this belief, that the numbers of men using facial moisturizers has risen exponentially in the past decade. Estimates of the male grooming market are as high as £56bn worldwide.

It is true that moisturisers make a superficial difference to skin tone through temporary hydration. Also, as clinical trials have proved, SPF factor is demonstrably useful in combating sun-ageing. But is there really a difference between the moisturising property of a £5 and £125 pot of face cream? If so, is this difference measurable by the human eye? And would a relative difference (between these creams) would be apparent over, say, three months. Oh, and how would we measure this difference?

The basic benefits of moisturisers– smoothing and protecting the skin – are not in dispute here. Rather, it is consumer gullibility, and the exaggerated, indeed absurd, and scientifically baseless claims implied by face cream manufacturers which I’m thinking about.

Let’s all make up ourselves.

People – including me – buy face creams for a variety of reasons, all of which fall into two categories. The first is the desire to look younger, and the second is the belief that improvement is possible. Of course, both of these categories are substrata of the single impetus directing purchase, this being dissatisfaction with the self.

Dissatisfaction with the self is not necessarily a bad thing, and spurs much that is commendable, such as


getting qualified


becoming a saint



working out at the gym.

Unfortunately, the beauty industry promotes a particularly unhealthy view of the self. It emphasises that only youth is beautiful, that its preservation is their business, and really ought to be yours. The fact that ageing cannot be stopped, or even delayed (beyond wearing a brimmed bonnet and some SPF cream – a cheap one will do!) is nowhere in their marketing pseudo-science.

Made up science:

Garnier WRINKLE Reader

The Garnier Wrinkle Reader. Made up science at its most absurd.

1. For some years now, Garnier  have included horrible miniature photographs of wrinkles in the interior of their moderately priced face creams. The idea is that you identify which crow’s foot is closest to your own, and follow the skincare regimen for that picture.

2, A more subtle, but equally specious approach is taken by Guerlain for their Orchidee Imperiale (retailing at £524 per 100ml) . This astonishingly expensive goo is, we are assured, the product of ten years dedicated research into orchids, which has resulted in a molecular extract with the power to turn back cellular time.

The fact is that only cosmetic surgery will get rid of the sort of wrinkles and sagging which come to everyone over forty. No cream will do it, and the proof is in the mature models used by some of the beauty companies.

The high-end beauty companies make a good deal of their money out of the professional, post 35 year old woman who is sorely worried that IT’S ALL COMING TO AN END.


The beauty industry inundates these ladies with various implicit and explicit messages of doom, redemption (if you fork out for their products) and action.

The promo actresses who make it all up for us:

A youthful looking, airbrushed older model is more likely to appeal to this sort of customer. Familiar mature faces of cosmetics include women as wealthy as:


Max Factor’s GWYNETH PALTROW admits to having undergone plastic surgery


L’Oreal’s ANDIE MACDOWELL eventually gave in and had work done.

Jane fonda l'oreal

L’Oreal’s JANE FONDA candidly attributes her smooth face to plastic surgery.

For decades, Gwyneth, Andie and Jane  have had the means to  lavish their skin with the most expensive products available. However, it is surgery plus regular fillers/Botox to which they owe the firm facial flesh, and not the products they endorse.

The Maths (not made up):

Cult 51

At the time of writing 5000 people are getting older on Fortnum and Mason waiting list for Cult 51 face cream, which costs £125 per 50ml.

The changes and effects wrought by even the most expensive creams would be statistically so feeble if subjected to proper clinical trials, as to persuade nobody, not even the most gullible. This is why the companies steer away from clinical test claims, and present consumer self-assessment data instead.

The efficacy of face creams is most often conveyed in terms of consumer studies, whereby a group of around thirty testers provide feedback on the product. These are worthless as statistical data goes. Usually, the only parameters governing the test is time. The results – always impressively high – indicate that over the time period, testers noted improvement in wrinkle depth/skin tone/age spot reduction, and so forth. These results being purely a matter of tester opinion, and we do not even know whether any incentive was given . Nor do we do not know the age, ethnicity or lifestyle (smoking, drinking) of these people, nor whether during the time period in question they made any other changes, such as staying out of the sun, eating healthily; nor, crucially, whether they are comparing the cream against another cream, or no cream at all.


Shiseido to sell 1 million yen skin cream

In the 400 years since Isaac Newton (pictured below), no word about gravity appears to have reached the Shiseido laboratories which claim this cream, retailing at £8800, can lift faces.

The singular weakness of these tests is the lack of a control, necessary to scientific experiments. All subjects are unique, and so is their skin. Also, there is no way of knowing how an individual’s skin would have progressed over the time period using another product, since we cannot wind back time and try an alternative on the same subject.

Perhaps the greatest joke played on beauty product consumers in recent years is facial serums. At some point over the last fifteen years, a serum became essential, and the lack of one in your beauty regimen would cost you dear. I have never identified an even remotely satisfactory explanation for the facial serum, beyond the fact that it makes the beauty companies more money. Why the essential, tinier-than-ever molecules of skin nourishment could not be added to the moisturiser, and the serum step circumvented, remains a mystery. The very word serum triggers notions of elementary science – blood, cells, and things biological. It sounds serious and indeed medical. We need this serum. It’s in our blood, isn’t it?



The lead in face masks of Elizabethan women, entered the blood, causing poisoning and disfigurement.

This brings me back to the point I made at the start, i.e. a product applied topically is unlikely to be effective against a force as strong as gravity. Since the beginning of time, people, especially women, have fantasised that rubbing stuff on the skin would turn back time, with often grotesque results. The sun bathing craze of the sun-cream slapping Seventies fried to a premature crisp perfectly good skin, and caused cancers.

Blindly and regularly we spend billions on a plethora of potions. Yet the belief in the youthifying properties of our rose water infusions, seaweedy mud masks and algae derived serum, or whatever, lasts little beyond the time it takes for you to part with your money. You get them home, and they join the legion of phials, jars, tubes and packets of trash in your drawer, which failed you, too. Moreover, you’re older (therefore uglier) and poorer than ever!

We need to face up to the fact that the multi-billion pound worldwide beauty industry makes fools of us all, and keeps us depressed about our looks. It is time we challenged ourselves into thinking outside the beauty box, and encouraged others, especially young people, to do likewise.


The father of real (not made up) science, Isaac Newton, is reported to have discovered gravity when an apple fell on his head.

Next time you are in the marble floored, strategically lit, pristine and fragrant beauty department, try to remember your secondary school science instead of lunging into romantic heroine mode, as the marketing invites us to do.

Gravity is a lot stronger than face creams, and the only way you can counteract it is through surgery. A far cheaper alternative is accepting the fact that beauty is only skin deep!


A Two Step Program to rehabilitate the Catholic Church.

When his wife sues him for divorce, his son turns out gay, his daughter has an abortion, and he falls in love with another woman, then the Catholic priest will smell of his flock, and taste its tears.


Olly editied Fr Kevin

Fr Kevin O’Connor, the ghetto Catholic priest in my book Messiah of the Slums, is based on some of the priests I have met. He devotes his whole life to the people he serves, and shows astonishing physical and moral courage when he stands up to the drug barons who control the estate. He is the first one in the story to understand who the Messiah really is.

Let me emphasise that I am no enemy of Catholicism or priests or the priesthood. But I do believe that the Catholic Church is finished unless it undergoes a conversion as radical and absolute as Damascus-bound Saul’s.

Half measures will be of no avail. Any Vatican initiative or edict which does not tackle, head on, the Church’s INSANE ideas on human sexuality is as good as useless. As anyone with experience of the mental health field will tell you, once somebody is pronounced mad, anything they say is ignored.  (I am not saying this is right.)The best they get is compassion and some help back to stability.

The Catholic Church’s noble words about social justice are not heeded, because the organisation is perceived by most people, especially those outside it, as mad.


Cardinals attend a Mass papal conclave

The 19 new cardinals are older (at least 55, with three being over 80), celibate men, with no practical experience – that they can admit to, anyway – of heterosexual daily life. They will nonetheless make binding moral pronouncements on contraception, divorce, adultery, IVF, pre-marital sex and abortion.

Half measures avail us nothing…

The recently elected Pope Francis’s appointment of nineteen new cardinals, is the latest half measure which has grabbed headlines this week. Comment has included praise for choosing cardinals from blighted regions such as Haiti.

Red-robed Cardinals occupy the highest echelon of power in the  Church, below the Pope himself. Only the Pope chooses the cardinals, known as Princes of the Church. Only these Princes can choose the Pope.

This is not a progressive formula.

In a church which venerates Jesus’ mother along with  a legion of female saints, in reality not a single woman has any decision-making power.

The shepherd should smell of his flock?


The new pope’s words match his deeds as he strives for simplicity and connection. He has ditched much of the pomp attaching to pontifical appearance and process; and he makes a considerable personal effort to spend time amongst ordinary people.

Pope Francis has been keen to promote the Church as champion of the poor since taking office in March 2013. His first apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), was a round and refreshing condemnation of capitalism.

Unfortunately, this is another half measure. But it’s a good one.

In the decades  since Margaret Thatcher sank Francis’s countrymen aboard the Belgrano,  the only gospel preached by public figures and organisations has been the joy of the free-market.  Yet now the head of the Catholic Church has joined the ranks of subversives such George Galoway and Russell Brand  (hitherto dismissed as crackpots) and spoken up for the poor. The trickledown effect is a fantasy of the greedy, tax averse right, he says. The shepherd should smell of his flock, he exhorts his priests.

Francis’ ideas are so honourable and radical, and delivered with such conviction that he has been honoured as Time magazine Person of the Year.

But they are insufficient.

The shepherd should smell of his flock, but so noxious and pervasive is the RC Church child abuse scandal, that, for huge numbers of people, only a sense of moral outrage fires whenever the word Catholic is mentioned. All sight and smell of the poor is lost. This is because, despite Francis’s genuine efforts to do good, for too many people,

RCC = paedo priests

A Broken Church

The fact remains that, systematically and for decades, Catholic priests raped and abused children in their care, and got away with it because the Church hierarchy (including the recently beatified John Paul II) colluded with them, e.g. by moving them from parish to parish. The Vatican, under the current Pope, has recently refused the extradition of a Polish archbishop being investigated for alleged sex abuse. A depressing litany of child-abuse statistics damn the Church.

It is embarrassing these days to admit to being a Roman Catholic.

The Church refuses to acknowledge that it has sinned through its own grievous fault. There has been little more than shuffling of funds from Vatican to abuse victims’ bank accounts.  Far from ridding itself of troublesome priests, the Roman Catholic Church sits safe in the Holy See busying itself with unnecessary jobs such as rewording bits of the Mass.

I wonder what the Church’s sex crime victims think about the switching out of one being in favour of consubstantial in the new Creed, for instance? For the Vatican to be preoccupied with such insubstantial matters in the face of an international criminal sex scandal is a scandal in itself. 

Pope-child in arms

Pope Francis is winning hearts. But he will not win minds unless he addresses the real issue facing the Catholic Church in the 21st century: its absolute loss of reputation.

The Catholic Church  must do two things, immediately and simultaneously, or it will die an ignominious death. It is already dying, for all Francis’s charm and energy. New Age magic,  psycho-babbling gurus, twelve-step cults and celebrity worship are setting up camp on the rock to which the Church still clings. Nothing less than a revolution is needed if the Church is to establish itself as a worthy conduit for the message of Jesus of Nazareth.

A Two Step Recovery Program for the Catholic Church

recovery program pic and words


1. Repent

First, the Roman Catholic Church needs step out of the Vatican and onto the mass media highway, chanting, me culpa, mea maxima culpa. A sackcloth and ashes public repentance should be the Vatican photo-story for months, perhaps years.

The Church’s readiness to accept, squarely and wholly, ALL responsibility for the sex crimes committed in its name, must be clear to everyone, everywhere.

And, of course, the Church must expel from office not only the perpetrators but all those who enabled them; and it must cooperate fully with the criminal courts of the countries concerned.

2. Change

 Second, and in tandem,

the Church needs to finally acknowledge the causal link between its priests’ sex crimes and its INSANE ideas about human sexuality.

Without any delay, the Vatican should abandon its teaching on the celibacy of the clergy.

The exclusion of women from not only the priesthood itself, but from the personal lives of priests, means that from the seminary onwards, the world in which these men find themselves is unbalanced. Personal growth is harder to achieve if half the world is forbidden to you. The greatest creation myth of all – the Book of Genesis is on any priest’s reading list – tells of how the forbidden fruit teases and tempts until we bite, to hell with the consequences.

Priests who are living with women,  with whom they have sex and maybe children, will understand the non-viability of their employer’s teaching on  contraception, homosexuality, pre-marital sex and divorce.

When his wife sues him for divorce, his son is gay, his daughter has an abortion, and he falls in love with another woman, then the priest will smell of his flock, and taste its tears.

Until then, there will be much gnashing and grinding of teeth because the Catholic priesthood has long been a hiding place for men with sexual problems they cannot face. Life in the seminary, a homogenously male, religiously proscriptive environment, is more likely to amplify or warp, rather than resolve, these troublesome proclivities.

Although I hope that the Catholic Church will go for my Two Step program, I’m not holding my breath. For all the hopefulness and humility of the new man at the top, I expect that the Church will commit yet another sin of omission and do nothing. Commissioning (another) internal review of child protection, or study on lay people’s attitude to family life, is rather like me saying, I’m thinking of having the bathroom done or I would like to relocate to Manhattan. Although I genuinely would like, a lot, to do both of these things, the fact is I am sat here at my desk writing this, after which I will not be actively seeking either of these outcomes.

On any given Sunday, Catholic churches are full of families with two or three kids – seldom more than four, which is a very large family size even for Western Mass-goers today. This is because virtually all of us ignore the most recognisably crazy idea of all in the Church’s sexual teaching: contraception is bad.

The kiss

Not all heterosexuals who have sex want babies every time they have sex.

If the Catholic Church wants to recover – and the aforementioned half measures indicate that it does – then it needs to recognise that heterosexuals have sex, and have always had sex, and will always have sex. This is because sex is natural for a number of reasons, most of which have nothing to do with procreation. Not all heterosexuals who have sex want to have babies every time they have sex. Or at all. This is why contraception is necessary. The Church-approved natural birth control methods – a farce of fallibility  involving vaginal mucus and thermometers – are, in any case, contraception.

At the heart of Step Two is the following singular and revolutionary idea which must be taken to heart and acted upon if change, and therefore rehabilitation, is to occur. From it will follow an understanding of wider human sexual issues, including the fact that some people just are gay, bisexual or transgender.

For the first time in its 2000 year history, the Roman Catholic Church must face and accept,


A third epoch…

brain connsciousness

Brain, reason and consciousness are not the same.

My former pupil, Dr. Philip Goff,  Lecturer in Philosophy at The University Liverpool specialising in Philosophy of Mind, has recently done a very interesting interview with fellow philosopher Tony Sobrado on the subject of consciousness.

It certainly got me thinking, because, like Goff, I believe that to review our understanding of reality is worthwhile. My purpose here is to share with you what I found interesting in Goff’s ideas, and why I think it is worth listening to what he has to say on the subject of consciousness.

Goff  bisects intellectual history at the time of  Galileo.

Before Galileo, religion lit the way for all those it didn’t burn at the stake. After him, thought has focused, almost exclusively, on physical, empirical investigation and explanation.

And significant advances have been made in our understanding of the causal structure of reality in the last five hundred years. But, to quote Wittgenstein, explanations need to end somewhere.

Goff proposes that a third, post-Galilean epoch begins, in which there is a rigorous, metaphysical transformation in our approach to the study of consciousness. In his discussion with Sobrado, he references the second law of thermodynamics  as a sort of starting point for his ideas about consciousness. Now, this law has fascinated me ever since I was myself at school,  studying Chemistry A Level and reading the great dystopian novels such as Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We.

Put very simply, the second law of thermodynamics states that things always and everywhere default to equilibrium, the lowest state of energy:  heat flows from hot to cold things, never the other way round, unless some work is done (as it is, e.g., in the household fridge).

Left to my own devices, I will gravitate to the settee rather than the vacuum cleaner,

for example.  (It was the 2nd law of thermodynamics I was thinking of, obliquely,  as I created the Incubo global drug baron character, in my latest novel, Messiah of the Slums. The villain-protagonist Incubo can ply his iniquitous trade with impunity because most people are asleep most of the time!)

Assessed on what we do, none of us amount to much on any given day. Given our natural tendency toward sloth, there is consolation in Goff’s anti-physicalist idea that:

there must be more to how things are than what they do.

Slouched together on the settee, we can console ourselves that Mind is the more bit. We think, therefore we are.  You do not need to be a philosopher to get this far. Almost all of us do get this far, indeed, for it is natural to wonder about our place in the universe, the in/finite nature of human understanding, and the question of why we are conscious at all.  From Cartesian ideas about  thinking it is easy, moreover, to see a distinction between reason (logic, proposition)  and consciousness.

It is easier to say what consciousness is like than what it is. Goff explains consciousness as the difference between kicking or stabbing or stroking a rabbit, and a table. Whereas neuro-science can explain brain states,  he goes on to say, only philosophy can provide a complete theory of consciousness.

Few would dispute that in recent decades, almost all our faith has been placed in science to deliver to us a whole picture of reality. Yet an exclusively empirical approach to understanding life and the universe is not enough for anyone. Like an Atkins’ dieter who consumes only the finest steak, cream and whisky, day in, day out, the lack of balance in our approach results in sickness. It is my belief that the deficit between scientific explanation and what we experience in reality, manifests in the developed world as widespread depression, ennui, disenchantment, and violence.

Goff reminds us that Einstein himself spent many hours just imagining what it would be like to travel on a light beam in order to formulate his theory of relativity.


Mind on a light beam.

Of all mental functions, science’s supreme being, Einstein, valued imagination most highly.

Throughout the ages physicalism has been regarded as inadequate. Dickens’  unlovely Gradgrind character, who valued only facts, never feelings, comes to mind; so do Friedman free-marketeers, the Triangular Slave Trade, and Hitler and Stalin, actually. The interior life of the individual transcends facts and defies measurement and quantification, and should never be annexed by another for personal gain.

We are beings, not doings, is the essence of what Goff is saying in his interview, I felt.  Although crucially important, science is not enough to explain being. For all their insane inconsistencies and rules, the religions do at least recognise in some way that human consciousness counts, which is why they will, in some form, always continue.

No matter how compelling Richard Dawkins’ ideas, prose and personality might be, it is the priest whom most of us will summon on our death beds.

Goff winds up the interview with a plug for pan-psychism. Despite its exotic title, pan psychism (if I understand it correctly, here!)  has nothing to do with the occult, but rather is a branch of metaphysics dedicated to the understanding of consciousness. It will elucidate further, rather than contradict, our existing, scientifically respectable picture of reality and our place in the cosmos . Balanced, unassuming and dare I say it, rational, pan-psychism strikes me as eminently worthy of consideration.

Our minds are under assault every moment, not only from the problems that attend our own mortality, but from the horror of the external world.

For all our scientific sophistication, sundry  injustices and demons dance 24/7 on our screens – Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan, Fallujah, Somalia, Kim Jong-un, Mugabe… The list goes on.

Many parts of the world are no better off than we were pre-Galileo. There is no second law of dynamics operating on the real intellectual benefits that science has brought. Too many people remain in the ignorance’s cold, believing in things like Adam and Eve, capital punishment, female circumcision, the wearing of impracticable garments to fend off sin, ritualistic slaughter of animals… Hey, this list goes on, too!

Photograph courtesy of David Roberts, The War Poetry Website.

Time and again –take the heinous mutual violence of  Sunnis and Shi’ites, that continuous affront to reason– we see evidence that the religions don’t work, and that science has nothing to say about morality.  I hate to be apocryphal, but I am not the only one on the edge when it comes to humanity’s fate.  The ace-scientist Stephen Hawking tends to preface his ideas about the future with disclaimers like, “If we haven’t blown ourselves up!” and advocates space colonisation as the only means of uniting us as a species.

Isn’t it time we gave our philosophers,  those grave, thoughtful and illuminated creatures, a go?  What is there to lose?

In my view,  Goff’s  third, metaphysical epoch is not only interesting, but necessary, and can’t come quickly enough.

The Goff/Sobrado interview  can be found on: