The Final Night (aka Them Walking Blues)

Well this is it – the night before the big day. After weeks of training here’s my thoughts…

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Thanks guys!

Ken

Educationalist, Writer and journalist D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out over summer – don’t miss them! 

Sign up for Ken’s new writing project – ‘The Pukur’ – at Patreon.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at dkpowell.contact@gmail.com

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The Keswick to Barrow Walk

I’ve gone and done something extremely silly. I know, I know; it’s not like Ken, you’re thinking. But I have.

Last year Thing I and Wifey foolishly decided to attempt the well-known Cumbrian event called ‘The Keswick to Barrow Walk’. This is – put simply – a walk from…ahem…Keswick to…well, Barrow basically.

Sounds nice right? Well it is. When the sun is shining it’s lovely walking around this amazing lake district area. We really are very lucky to live in such a beautiful area. Everyone that takes part has to raise a minimum of £80 for a nominated charity from an official list of accepted local charities too so it’s all for a good cause too.

However, despite looking close together on a map of the UK, Keswick and Barrow are actually 43 miles apart and it takes 12 hours (if you’re fit) to walk it – more hours if you’re less fit or old or, like me, both. It’s incredibly gruelling and people tend to have toenails drop off, or huge chunks of skin and other nasties like that as a result of attempting the distance. I can attest that those that take part don’t walk normal for days afterwards (if they can walk at all). Many drop off along the way and your pace is measured at stations positioned regularly along the track. If you take too long to reach a certain one they will pull you from the event even if you think you can carry on. They do this simply because trying to find tired and lost people in the dark isn’t much fun for anyone – especially the person who is lost and tired.

I was immensely proud of both girls last year but especially my 14-year-old Thing I. My son and I met up with them about ten miles from the end and she was suffering really, really badly. We tried to persuade her to give up (it was still an amazing achievement to do over 30 miles) and she was very tempted; but she carried on to the end. I’ve never known her show such courage.

We did it!!

14 hours after starting the walk at sunrise (and long after the sun had set) both girls passed the finishing line, in agony and with tears, but proud victors.

This year, as a joke, I was asked if I fancied doing the K2B.

“Go on then,” I said, also half jokingly. But then I thought: Heck why not? Hence, my first statement of doing something silly.

Yep, this year, yours truly will be attempting this epic escapade. ‘Team FP’ – consisting of myself, one of my best mates and our two ‘significant others’ (Wifey being the only experienced member of the team) will be setting off at the break of dawn on Saturday 12 May in order to raise money for the Independent Community Autism Activity Network (I CAAN). As it happens, our son, Thing II, has just been diagnosed with autism so this charity stands for something which has touched our lives. It wasn’t planned like that but it’s cool that it worked out that way.

Now I’m no spring chicken no more, let’s face it, and even when you’re young and healthy you need to put in some decent training walks. I love walking (in good weather and preferably in a museum and with a beer at the end 😀 ) but even I wasn’t going to be able to manage that many miles without working up to it. So for the last two months we’ve all been doing our walks – in fair weather and foul (and occasionally fowl too this being rural Cumbria after all) – getting ourselves ready.

Rumour has it that at least one of my team did as much as eight whole miles and declared themselves fit and ready to do the thing for real in May. It wasn’t me, I can assure you. I have struggled with every increase. Starting at eight miles, then ten, fourteen and, just last weekend, reaching an epic 26 miles. At the end of each one I can tell you I. Felt. Like. Death. My feet, legs and hips have discovered new heights of pain I didn’t know were possible. But I found the crippling length of the previous walk pretty easy to do by comparison with each succeeding walk – so I guess that means I am getting better at it even if it doesn’t feel like it.

Now that I’ve reached the 26 mile mark, which is well over the distance they recommend to make sure you’re ready to handle the day for real, I feel more relaxed and assured. I have a genuine fear that something will go wrong and I won’t make it to the end. At the fourteen mile walk I really did think there would be no way I was going to be able to do this. A consistent problem is a pain in my left hip which I can keep subdued with painkillers on the road but not eradicate entirely. My feet however take it in turns to come up with new ways to strain themselves and cripple me. Last weekend I thought I was going to be left crippled and lame in Kells (and locals will tell you, you don’t want to be stranded in Kells, believe me!) because something went wrong with my left foot. But somehow, I lurched on like Dr Frankenstein’s assistant and made it the final 5-6 miles home.

However, I have a month to go yet and no permanent damage has occurred so far so, touch wood, I think I’m going to be able to manage all 43 miles. With the training well in hand the only thing left to do is get sponsorship – and that, of course, is where you come in. If you feel so inclined, I’d be delighted if you can spare a moment to click on the link and send a few pennies and pounds our way. The K2B organisers are superb at organising the event but their website skills are none too good so don’t be put off by the basic layout. I hope some of you will take the time to navigate your way through and spare a pound or two. Doesn’t need to be much – the price of a coffee you could drink on the 12 May while watching me lumber on asking God to kill me along the way perhaps?

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Here’s some pictures and videos from my training walks to give you some idea what it will be like in May and also to show you just how beautiful Cumbria can be.

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Thanks guys!

Ken

Educationalist, Writer and journalist D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out over summer – don’t miss them! 

Sign up for Ken’s new writing project – ‘The Pukur’ – at Patreon.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at dkpowell.contact@gmail.com

Posted in British, children, community | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Porn and the internet – a thoughtful review of ‘The Butterfly Effect’ by Jon Ronson

Unusually, I am sharing a book review written on my writing blog here. Normally I keep the two blogs separate but, from time to time, I write something which I think is worth sharing on both.

Jon Ronson’s book may possibly be the most interesting and illuminating book I’ve come across in a long time. That the subject matter be about the porn industry is simply rather typical of the way I don’t back away from discussing difficult subjects which others would rather judge from afar.

In the spirit of open debate (and in union with my current articles on this site written to provoke thought) I offer this book review for your consideration. I should point out that though ‘adult issues’ are openly referred to in Ronson’s book, this is not a book of sex or porn but a book about the people behind the industry and the unseen effects that online porn has had on both individuals and society as a whole. Nevertheless, it is not advised for the easily shocked or the very young. 

Ken

The Butterfly EffectThe Butterfly Effect by Jon Ronson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I often find myself championing strange, even unpopular, causes. Prostitution, for instance, is something I’d like to see un-demonized. Not because of some perverse predilection of mine (I’ve simply never found the idea of ‘stranger sex’ appealing) but because of following the blogs of one or two ‘sex workers’ and finding there is a human and intelligent side to that work which is often dismissed by the very society which keeps these people in employment.

For that reason, when Audible (a platform I use a great deal as I can listen to a book while doing other tasks such as housework) offered me a free copy of Jon Ronson’s audio book of interviews about the rise of free internet porn, I accepted it with my interest piqued.

But even I – with my foreknowledge that the stories behind these kind of industries are interesting and rarely what you are expecting – even I was surprised by how deeply this ‘book’ affected me. There were times when I actually cried tears, and others when I was surprised by joy.

The premise of Ronson’s book is that of one man (a boy really), Fabian Thylmann, decided to get rich by giving the world free internet porn. He bought Pornhub in 2010 and, from the vast sums he made, bought up pretty much every other porn site too. In effect, Thylmann created a ‘YouTube of porn’ where anyone and everyone could download their porn videos – home ones as well as bought ones.

The ‘Butterfly effect’ of this was that the traditional porn industry was all but wiped out. Film producers making a new video would find that within weeks or months of its release it was available to watch for free on Pornhub. Ronson goes on to look at several other surprising knock-on effects of Thylmann’s legacy.

Many of the stories were touching. We are told that pornstars now have short lifespans in the traditional industry. Either they need to look like teenagers or like ‘MILFS’ (older women acting the role of ‘mom’). In between, the industry is closed to them. So the rise of the ‘bespoke’ custom-made porn industry has been the result. Now production companies make videos for fans, following scripts and fetishes desired by fans, for cash.

While, of course, much of this is kinky and pervserse, some are bizarre for more sympathetic reasons. Take, for instance, the man who wanted pornstars to set fire to his stamp collection. I won’t reveal too much, but in researching the reasons for this, Ronson uncovers not only the sad story of this one fan but those of others too. There’s some truly heart-wrenching stories here.

Other results are more complex to figure. Because of internet porn men are suffering erectile dysfunction at younger and younger ages. But at the same time, teenage pregnancies are dropping –
and for the same reasons. Is free porn then, a good thing or bad?

Oddly, I find myself asking this more than Ronson does of his interviewees. Although he presents quite a balanced view, it is to Thylmann that he puts the evidence and asks him if he feels bad or responsible for the havoc he’s wreaked on the traditional porn industry. I found myself thinking that the complaints of the porn industry are themselves hypocritical. After all, the video makers stole the market from the magazine peddlers of decades ago. I remember as a teenager being warned of the dangers of porn by evangelistic religious zealots because ‘porn makes it harder to get erections’ – long before porn was easily available in animated form. While that was propaganda, it was true to an extent though about erectile dysfunction. Thylmann’s work has merely accelerated it a little (and as he points out, this can be rectified medically and, hey! Teenage pregnancies are down!). I doubt these film makers gave much thought to the loss of income suffered by the previous generation. To an extent, all it should mean is that the industry finds other ways to generate income and shrinks until it is economically sustainable. After all, Pornhub can’t exist without porn being made. There is a balance somewhere.

What matters more to me is the spotlight Ronson throws onto society in general. There are heartrending stories of male nurses sacked, good Christian fathers committing suicide, autistic kids given virtual life sentences, and even wives doing their best to support seriously disabled husbands who are wrongly tarred with a brush that society does not deserve to wield.

At least one statistic suggests that around 40% of the UK watches porn online. Other researchers have found similar results around the world. Some suggest even higher figures. When looking at such figures, there is no longer room for disgust and condemnation of the porn industry. Instead, it is increasingly important to embrace the inevitable and appreciate that online porn is here to stay and it is acceptable to watch it if you choose to.

Perhaps the most important reason for this acceptance is that it is probably teenagers who are watching porn the most and there really is no way to prevent this happening. Nothing has changed. I used to steal my brother’s porn mags from his bedroom as a nine-year-old when he was in his late teens. My first experiences of the female body were informed by those early viewings (until our mum found them and the magazines promptly trashed). It is the same today only kids look on their phones rather than on paper. Teen sex education really occurs online.

Rather than attempt to keep them away (which will fail), it is better to teach kids to safeguard themselves -both in their online habits and in their interactions with the opposite sex. Certainly in the UK the reaction has been to both infantalise teenagers and make them responsible adults in a mix which is catastrophic and inappropriate. So now we have the absurd situation where two 17-year-olds can freely and legally engage in sex together but as soon as one sends a naked image of themselves to the other, they have broken the law by supplying porn to a ‘minor’ and face being placed on the sex offender’s register, potentially for life. They are treated both as ‘child’ and as ‘responsible adult’. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so horrific.

Similarly, the rise of crying rape and abuse as a weapon for revenge is alarming. This is not to dismiss the very real cases of abuse which occur every day but such cases will soon stop being listened to, I predict, because more and more enraged and aggrieved ex-spouses, partners and dates are seeking retribution in their upset and laying claims which ruin lives. This is especially true of teenagers and those in their early 20s. Soon, the tide will change and authorities will stop listening to genuine cases because of the wealth of false ones. I would go so far as to guesstimate that, of cases where someone claims a partner or someone known to them has raped them, around 50% of these claims are false. This is not a situation which can be allowed to continue for long.

Ronson’s book throws up the need for us to re-evaluate porn in the life of society today. Gone are the days where it was seedy men in macs buying top shelf ‘Men’s magazines’. Now it is fashionable, trendy even, and needs discussing for right and appropriate use rather than pretending it doesn’t exist.

The one thing Ronson’s book does not cover is that of the reputation that girls are forced into appearing in porn films and lead wretched lives of coercion and abuse. This is perhaps because, as his interviews show, this is the exception rather than the rule. The majority of those starring in porn movies do so because they enjoy it and choose to make money this way. In a sense, Fabian Thylmann’s legacy proves this. Gone are the days when you could become a rich and famous pornstar. It’s a struggle to make money at all and even then, only for a short few years. Yet the girls keep coming – more and more every year – and many love getting into the somewhat ‘odd’ world of the custom-made movie industry. Thus is the change in life. We all need to get used to it.

Get Ronson’s book, be challenged, be amused and be ready to have your mind blown. This is perhaps the best book I’ve listened to thus far this year.

View all my reviews

 

Writer and journalist D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out over summer – don’t miss them! 

Sign up for Ken’s new writing project – ‘The Pukur’ – at Patreon.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at dkpowell.contact@gmail.com

Posted in Book Review, Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Pukur and thoughts on the Rohingya situation

As a few of you know, last month I began a new book project using the Patreon site. I’m publishing the first (official) drafts of my novel set in Bangladesh – ‘The Pukur’ – one chapter per month to subscribers (actually, you get two, shorter, chapters for each of the first two months).

Subscription starts at just $2 per month which is pretty much as cheap as I can make it but you can subscribe for a lot more if you wish and receive extra goodies over time (such as signed copies of my book, extra stories etc).

But the real reason for doing the book this way is to raise funds specifically for various charity work projects I’m involved with (such as education for street children in Dhaka) or to continue supporting charities I’ve worked for in the past (such as LAMB, the NGO where I lived and worked in Bangladesh for five years). Earmarking funds like this allows me to raise money for flights through private means and still be able increase the amount I can give. You can view the opening pages of my Patreon page and see more details there.

The supporters on Patreon all get mid-month blog posts and video posts (the chapters are sent to them at the beginning of each month) with my thoughts about the book, Bangladesh and life.

This month I’ve just done a video log which, after a little something about the book, talks about the situation at the moment regarding the Rohingyas which has finally hit the mainstream headlines. I thought, as a one-off, I’d share this video with you guys too. I won’t normally, but I felt it important to get this out to a wider audience. I hope you’ll take the time to watch and, if you feel appropriate, to reblog, share, tweet and otherwise encourage others to watch it too. Feel free to join me on Patreon too!

Thanks guys,

Ken

 

Writer and journalist D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out over summer – don’t miss them! 

Sign up for Ken’s new writing project – ‘The Pukur’ – at Patreon.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at dkpowell.contact@gmail.com

Posted in Bangladesh, politics, Racism, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Seven-year Itch

Facebook told me today that I started my first blog seven years ago today. It wasn’t this one but after a few posts the site I was using stopped working properly and I switched to WordPress. I never looked back!

I migrated all my first pieces to this site and never went back to the first one (I’m surprised anyone uses that particular ‘leading competitor’ site to be honest. Compared to WordPress it just looks really cheap). So in a sense this blog of mine has been there from the beginning of my writing career (which I guess is also seven years old then!).

It’s been a ride. I’ve gone from being a full-time classroom teacher living in Bangladesh to being a full-time writer living in the UK. I used to pay visits to my home country (UK) now I pay visits to my ‘heart country’ (Bangladesh). I was unpublished when I began and now I have two books published, a novel project on Patreon and two more books on the verge of being published! On top of that, my articles have been published all over the world, translated into various languages and there are people out there learning from numerous courses I’ve written.

I’ve made many friends through being a blogger too. I’ve even met a few as I blogged about recently. Alas, some have been relationships which have ended too. I think it’s right to accept that. I don’t believe in holding on to something that’s not meant to be; some people are meant to be ‘friends for a season’ and that’s all. Still, it’s my curse that when someone made an impact in my heart I’m going to miss them.

That might seem rather over the top or melodramatic, I don’t know, ha ha. When I started, my ‘real world’ friends and family all thought I was a bit weird making friends with people across the world who, in some cases, I’d never even seen. Now, it’s common-place. Social media has exploded and I’m guessing there’s very few of us nowadays who don’t have friends whom we’ve never met, or only met after knowing online for a while, or who simply live on the other side of the world and without it we’d never be in contact with them. There’s no doubt to me that many I’ve met online are as important in my life as those I’ve only known in the real world. It’s silly to differentiate considering often those real world people are work colleagues or former school friends – as if the randomness of those situations is somehow more ‘appropriate’ than choosing friends because you like their blogs, their tweets, the things they do on Facebook or a host of other reasons.

With that in mind, I’ve never differentiated between ‘online’ and ‘real world’. If I love you, I love you. What I say, I mean. Doesn’t matter what age, sex, occupation, status or marital status, religion, culture or country you belong to.

If you’re one of those whose been here since the beginning of those seven years, I thank you. You are valued and wanted and I’m grateful for you contribution – even if that’s just reading my ramblings! I still have the blogging itch and no matter what life has in store for my future, I suspect blogging will continue to be a special part of it. So I hope you’re still following in another seven years!

And if you’re one of those who came and went (here, or in my life) well…you’re probably not reading this anyway. But if by chance you are, the door out swings both ways. People may leave your life for a season but I’m old and haggard enough to know that sometimes they come back. The choice is yours.

All are welcome.

Writer and journalist D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out over summer – don’t miss them! 

Sign up for Ken’s new writing project – ‘The Pukur’ – at Patreon.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at dkpowell.contact@gmail.com

Posted in Life, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments