Unoccupied at night

Not, as you might think, the state of premises, but the occupation of the Parish Clerk of Cannock in Staffordshire as recorded in the 1891 census.


William Devey’s full occupation was recorded as, Parish Clerk, Stationer, Bookseller and Bank Officer unoccupied at night”.

Mind you, he was probably responsible for the local census so could get away with that.

Midsummer sleep patterns

We’re a week after midsummer, and although sunrise is now as late as 0439 today and sunset as early as 2212, it’s still light enough to see your way after midnight in the gloaming. Argyll is not that far north, and we don’t have the simmer glim that Shetlanders do, but this is a time of year when my sleep patterns are very different from the rest.

For about three or four weeks either side of midsummer, I’ve learned not to expect much more than about four or five hours of sleep a night, much less than my customary seven or eight. Even with the curtains closed, I still go to bed later and awake earlier than at other times of the year. The interesting thing is that I don’t feel deprived of sleep, although I might just take a wee nap at my desk for ten minutes in the middle of the day – much to the amusement of my colleagues. I’m thinking of having a hammock installed in the storeroom …

The longer I stare at this image, the more I can only see …

… bollocks.


I’m not inclined to beat about the bush here. Reflexology is utter, utter cock. (It’s my blog and I can say what I like, but only because it’s true.) This picture has resurfaced in a couple of clickbait articles and made its way into my Facebook news feed. It originated with someone selling a useless electronic device and who obviously needed an illustration to go with it, and used a cheap and nasty image editing programme to slam some text and images onto a picture of a hand. Does anyone really think this crap is real? A good test of the reliability of the method is to see whether all the available charts agree. Have a look at this Google search and decide for yourself if they do.

And come to that, why are “diabetes” and “blood sugar” so far apart? No, I don’t need anyone to answer that because it’s all male chickens.

Five little words

Damn, I’m in one of those places that can’t decide if it’s a public house or a care home. The warning sign is always there when you walk in and they ask those toxic five words, “have you eaten here before?” Why, I ask, do you give me a miniature garden fork and trowel to eat with? Do I recline like a Roman? Is the meal pureed and served through a straw?
Actually, any of those options are better than the robotic service and inane, unwanted interrogations that come your way. “Are you the gammon steak?” No, you stupid man, I’m a customer. “Enjoy your meal [imperative].” Don’t I get to choose? “Would you like this card so you can give us your personal details under the guise of telling us whether you enjoyed the meal but in reality you’re entering into a life-long relationship with our emotionally needy marketing department?” No, if I’m unhappy I’ll tell you and the least I should expect is specific performance of our contract: the beer is drinkable and the food is (a) cooked thoroughly and (b) matches the description on the menu.
And finally, don’t ask me how my day’s gone unless you are really, really interested and have twenty minutes to spare, because otherwise you’re being inauthentic and as fake as the lookee-likee English country pub translated to the space between Ikea and the M8 motorway which, in truth, is what you are.
So how was your meal, Mr Mackie?

On the narrative of dying

There are two terms I hate with a passion in relation to death.

Abel dying. Marble, reception piece for the French Royal Academy, 1785. Jean-Baptiste Stouf (1742–1826). © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

The first is “passing”. This has become a trendy euphemism that seems to have seeped into the popular discourse from the sewer of spiritualism. The transitive sense of the verb to pass is movement of something from one place to another. Even arguing that it’s passing out of life won’t wash, because the implication is that it’s out of life into something else. I’ve even heard atheists and humanists use the term, as if it’s somehow become more socially acceptable and compassionate than dying. Death is our ultimate finality; there is nothing beyond it for us as individuals. Euphemisms that detract from that finality remove the acute sense of ending that comes with death. Perhaps that’s why we shy from the term, it’s easier to suggest some sort of ethereal hope of reconnection when we speak to the bereft and grieving, rather than acknowledge the finality and completeness of their loss.

The second object of my bile this morning is “battling with cancer”. There is a scientific and societal battle with cancer, but there’s bugger all an individual can do who’s got cancer than seek out the best medicine available in terms of cure. In terms of mental wellbeing, then there is much a patient can do to live with the reality of the disease and the possible outcomes. There is always an implied criticism in the use of the verb battle for those who die from cancer; obviously they didn’t try hard enough. I consider this to be offensive and objectifying of cancer patients as either winners or losers when no-one would dream of using the same language for, say, pneumonia. But, again, I can understand that when someone is very sick, it’s comforting to say to one another “she’s a fighter” as if it somehow casts a spell of recovery over the patient. And perhaps that’s why we do it; to persuade ourselves that this dreadful thing isn’t going to take the ones we love and place the onus of their own fate on the person least able to change it.

And in the last, here’s a warning to my family. I’ve got as good a chance as anyone else of dying of cancer. And if any one of them refers to me battling bravely or passing or other similar bollocks, I’ll break all the rules of the universe and come back to haunt them.

Cork Evening Echo Opinion Column: Why I spoke up for marriage equality

140 characters is usually enough

My feet were sore and my back was at me.

It was two days to the Marriage Equality referendum and I’d taken some time off work to help with Yes Equality Cork. I had never canvassed for anything in my life and my experience of going door-to-door in rural towns and villages had been almost universally positive. I was finding standing on the street in Cork a lot more daunting.


Outside the city library at lunchtime, I decided a friendly, indirect approach was best.  Holding my Yes Equality leaflets in my hand, I greeted people “Hello! Are you voting on Friday?” The most common answer I got was along the lines of “I am voting. And I’m voting Yes.” Some people said they hadn’t made their minds up yet. I asked if they had any worries or doubts and almost all said they didn’t, which led me…

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Legacies of British Slave-ownership

When I wrote the following piece, I misunderstood the records I was reading. These records are actually the compensation paid to slave-owners upon the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. I feel I’d like to retain the original piece as written, but with this corrective and explanatory note for readers at the beginning. In many ways, it’s even more disturbing to read how great the sums of money were spent on compensating owners, when nothing except liberty was extended to enslaved peoples.

Patrick Mackie 15/07/2015

My mother comes from a long-established family of plantation owners in Antigua, and I have long known that the reality is that her ancestors, and mine, will have been slave owners. Now, I know at least which ancestors bought slaves, and I know how many they bought, and how much they paid for them. Those are possibly the most awful words I have ever written, putting down in perpetuity that my family heritage includes people who owned other people, who paid cash for them and enslaved them for their private commercial advantage. It’s something I knew to be a historical reality, and now, thanks to a project based at University College, London, I can now identify the individuals.

Sedgwick crest

Sedgwick crest from family tree

On the 19th October 1835, Elizabeth Sedgwick and her son, Samuel Sedgwick, between them paid £774 19s for the bodies and lives of forty-five people, to become their property and provide the labour that enabled their own prosperity. That sum has an historic opportunity cost of £80,690 at today’s value, £1,793 per person. No doubt they expected that investment to pay a handsome dividend over the lives of their purchases. Samuel is my four-greats-grandfather and Elizabeth my five-greats-grandmother. I am lucky that I have family trees that trace some ancestral lines back into the 17th and 18th centuries in good detail, but the inevitability is that, as we go back in time, we discover things that we would never countenance as moral or ethical behaviour, and from which we naturally recoil, but were the brutal normality of their times. Most people don’t have access to those resources and the modern, unknowing, descendants of slave-owners in Britain alone must number the hundred-thousands, if not more. So, as the old saw goes, when you point one finger at me, there are three more pointing back at you.

Simply Bonnkers

Reinhard Bonnke is a German-born evangelical preacher with a large, international following. Back in the days before my enlightenment from religion, I was aware of him as one of those superstar evangelists who were regarded as saints by the saints. He’s got an active Facebook page, and one of my old friends who’s still a Christian, recently liked one of Bonnke’s posts and, in the mysterious ways of Facebook, it made it onto my news feed.

Some people said to me I am "too dogmatic". But who of us would board an aircraft if the pilot kept "an open mind" about the destination? Passengers want A VERY dogmatic pilot. Hell or heaven - what is our destination? Join Jesus and your arrival in heaven is guaranteed. REINHARD BONNKE

Some people said to me I am “too dogmatic”. But who of us would board an aircraft if the pilot kept “an open mind” about the destination?
Passengers want A VERY dogmatic pilot. Hell or heaven – what is our destination? Join Jesus and your arrival in heaven is guaranteed.

Now, there’s a lot wrong with this analogy. I’m not even going to bother with the Jesus-is-the-captain-of-my-heart thing, because I want to deal with this rash and foolish assumption that what airline passengers need, above all else, is a dogmatic pilot at the controls. This can only have been written by someone with no awareness of reality or the fact that dogmatic and arrogant airline pilots have been significant factors in several airliner crashes with the loss of many hundreds of lives.

The cockpit of a modern airliner is a very complex, busy place and the workloads on crew can be intense, even during routine take-off and landing phases, and particularly if there’s any sort of emergency. The Kegworth air disaster had, as one of its contributory factors, confusion between the pilots as to which engine was on fire and the reluctance of the cabin crew – who knew damn well which one was on fire because they could see it – to tell the pilots that the engine fire had not been put out by their actions. There are a number of other case studies where poor communication led to tragedy and can be found on Wikipedia under the article on crew resource management.

The FAA risk management handbook identifies the right stuff, wrong stuff and no-stuff attributes of pilot behaviours when it comes to flight safety. The wrong stuff group has high levels of negative traits, such as being autocratic or dictatorial. Dogmatism is the inability to be swayed by evidence or the unfounded positiveness in matters of opinion, the arrogant assertion of opinions as truths. Fundamentally, religion itself is the assertion of opinions as truths. Even the statement that something is the revealed word of some deity or another is no more than the assertion of opinion.

And that’s what Bonnke is really inviting his followers to do, to discount their own thinking and the evidence of the reality all around them and unthinkingly to hitch their waggons to his star.

And reality has a way of introducing irony into these things as well. Bonnke’s poster is supposed to suggest that heaven is somewhere out there beyond the Earth and is a glorious and wonderful place to aspire to. Well, our old friend TinEye finds the original Shutterstock image which Bonnke used, and it’s tagged: heaven, earth, planet, background, mystical, god, hell, light, armageddon, mayan, religion, carbon, ray, global, red, sky, space, globe, air-conditioning, sunlight, cataclysm, fantastic, cloud, dramatic, 2012, bright, apocalypse, orange, impressive, astrology, refrigerant, dioxide, solar, bible, climate, solution, science, blue, warming, scenic, eternity, beautiful, danger, idyllic, cloudscape, countdown, universe.

Perhaps the last thing you really want to do is fly GodAir – the pilot’s too damn dogmatic for your safety.