Losing my Religion


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Church Old LyonFunny things religions. Some of us have been lifelong practising members of one of them since early childhood, others have never had much if any contact with them, some discover them later in life and others still abandon them for various reasons.

I lost both my parents over a four-month period when I was 13 and, as they used to take me to church occasionally, I had understood that the idea was that apart from having to atone for being a sinner from the day we were born, which seemed downright daft to me, we could pray for ourselves and others and hope that god would hear and help us.

I liked the second option so that’s why, two days after the death of my father, who had never really managed to overcome his grief at my mother’s death, I walked into a church my parents had taken me to in the past, albeit rarely, and knelt down to pray for them. It was rather cold in the church, although outside it was the middle of the afternoon on a beautiful spring day, so I was the only person in the church, or so I thought.

So there I was, praying as best I could and hoping that I was doing it right and that god would hear me, when I heard heavy footsteps coming down the aisle.

Ker-lunk ker-lunk ker-lunk ker-lunk. Until the footsteps stopped, just behind me.

“What are you doing in here??!!” boomed a male adult voice. I was only a boy so his words hit me like a thunderclap. I almost jumped up with fright.

Looking over my shoulder, I saw a priest. He looked at me more than suspiciously and I said “I’m here to pray for my parents.”

“No you’re not! You’re here for the same reason as all kids come here in the afternoon when they should be at school, which is to steal candles and even the silverware!”

“B..bu..but no, I’m here to pr..”


So (and I’ve never forgotten a second of this as far as I remember, or exactly how I felt) I stood up slowly, entered the aisle, and walked slowly back up it without looking back, towards the wide open doors, through which I walked out and into the warm and blinding sunshine.

I have never set foot in a church since. Not once. Because I believe that if my parents had seen me walk out of that church in quiet revolt at being prevented from loving them with my prayers they would have been mightily proud of me and very angry at the priest who stopped me from trying to ease my pain.

(p.s. and for what it’s worth, I may have lost any faith I had in religion that day, but that episode convinced me nevertheless that I had genuine spiritual needs and aspirations, which is why I have spent much time over the years thinking about these aspects of life. It’s just that I don’t do so in the context of an established religion. I do so alone, and I am quite happy with that.)



The AF447 air disaster, Vestibular neuronitis, and a question of humour


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earFlight AF447 was a commercial Air France flight which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean just after 2am on 1 June 2009 en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, killing all 216 passengers and 12 aircrew. The final report established that the accident process began with the formation at high altitude of ice crystals in the pitot tubes, which are devices attached to the fuselage and which send air pressure information to computers which then calculate the plane’s airspeed. These crystals and the conflicting information they were sending resulted in the computers becoming confused and sending erroneous and contradictory speed indications to the pilots, whose reactions consequently became confused. This was compounded by the fact that they were flying in total darkness and with no spatial references, that which can easily lead to spatial disorientation.

So confused were the computers that they then sent out all kinds of conflicting warning signals to the pilots not only about speed, but about other flight parameters too. They began to shut down one by one because they could no longer handle all the data incompatibilities, and the pilots had become so totally overwhelmed by all the information that they lost effective control over the aircraft. The report found that the pilots had been insufficiently trained to deal with this particular situation and thus took hands-on piloting decisions which led to the plane crashing into the ocean.

I was talking to a friend earlier today who is getting over a bout of a relatively rare condition called Vestibular neuronitis. Now I’m no expert on this condition so I’ll let Wikipedia do the talking for me.

Vestibular neuronitis, also called Vestibular neuritis, can be a paroxysmal, single attack of vertigo, a series of attacks, or a persistent condition which diminishes over three to six weeks. It is a type of unilateral vestibular dysfunction and may be associated with nausea, vomiting, and previous upper respiratory tract infections. It generally has no auditory symptoms, unlike labyrinthitis. Vestibular neuronitis may also be associated with eye nystagmus. […] It appears to be caused by an imbalance of neuronal input between the left and right inner ears.[2]

Well, if they say so… Anyway, she was telling me how weird it was to suddenly lose her balance and not know where she was spatially, which meant that when it was at its worst she couldn’t even stand up, and if she was standing up she either had to sit down immediately or she would simply fall to the floor. She said that her doctor told her that the imbalance is caused by a kind of ‘crystal’ type material forming and falling off the vestibular nerve, which results in erroneous information being sent to the brain.

So she, who is French and thus quite familiar with some of the broader details of the AF447 disaster, said;

“I was like AF447. The crystals meant false data was sent to my brain’s computers, which couldn’t sort it all out and give me a clear picture of where I was so I made bad decisions about how to stay standing up, they didn’t work, so I just lost control and fell.”

Now I know that the families of the victims of the disaster wouldn’t appreciate her amusingly off-the-wall comparison, and I am also aware that the Supreme Court of Politically Correct Humour would find her guilty of bad taste and insulting the victims of a tragedy before sending her off to the Goulag.

Still, as a Brit who loves dark humour, unlikely and imaginative parallels and unlikely metaphors I found her description of her condition to be rather amusing. But it was more than that. It was also a very effective way of making me understand what she had experienced.

What do you think?

The biggest GPS fail ever?


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ZagrebSabine Moreau, a 67-year-old Belgian retiree, crept out of her bed in the sleepy Belgian town of Erquelinnes just before 5am last Saturday. Her mission? To drive the 43 miles which separated her from the railway station in Brussels, where she was to pick up a friend. Before leaving she entered the coordinates of the station into her car’s GPS system as she was not very familiar with the route. And it was at the precise second that she pressed ‘enter’ that her problems began. Unaware of any problems however, she set off into the early morning light and towards her destination…….

Some hours later, her son learned that she had never reached Brussels station and that the person she was supposed to pick up had gone home by other means. He phoned his mother. There was no reply, but that wasn’t alarming in itself as she rarely answered the phone.

Then, after a few more hours with no news dragged out into a long and worrying wait, he phoned the police. They arrived and said there was no trace of a plan to kill herself or anything else suspicious in the house. Later, and just as the police were about to launch an alert and distribute her photo to the public, a detective localised her thanks to credit card records which showed that she was in…..Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.

In other words, Sabine was exactly 869 miles from where she had begun what she thought would be a short hop to Brussels, just 43 miles away.

How did she get there? Here’s her story.

“Everything was going well”, she says, and although she had had a couple of problems with the GPS things seemed to have sorted themselves out, so she pressed doggedly onwards.

Then, she says, “I began to see road signs in French, and then in German. I didn’t think much of it and I continued to follow the road.” Besides, “I had money in my credit card account so no worries.” And she continued upon her merry way, out of the other side of Germany and beyond…….

“It was when I’d gone past Zagreb that I said to myself that I’d better turn round and go back” she says, and so she punched in the coordinates of her home town into the GPS and finally got home many hours later.

Okay, it’s a bit of a wacky-but-true story, but still, there is a major upside to it, as the results of my Google route search from Brussels to Zagreb – shown in the photo above – demonstrate. After all, she had visited French-speaking parts of Belgium she had never seen before and gone on to drive, like a latter-day motorised Columbus, through four other countries; Germany, with its magnificent forests and plains, Austria and its dramatic scenery, Slovenia and its mountains, and Croatia, with its many magnificent inland lakes and islands.

She had, if she took anything like the Google route, driven by or though Cologne, Frankfurt and Nuremberg, Graz, Maribor and several other historical cities, looking as she went at their skylines and other features.

In a word, she had just gone for an 869-mile drive through some of the most beautiful regions of Europe. And she had surely spoken to some people in garages or cafes or somewhere who spoke foreign tongues and, although perplexed, shrugged her shoulders and kept on truckin’ on, faithful to the mission.

I am glad that the lady got home safely and I just hope that she remembers enough of what she saw during her trip to enable her to look back upon it not with regret at having been rather less than attentive that day, but with the fondest memory of the kind of drive through the heart of Europe that even the most hardened tourist would never forget.

Ah, the things people do…