Thursday, 9 December 2010

Why does it take tragic reminders to give us resolve?

There are some pieces of news that rock you to your very core and undermine your sometimes tenuous grip upon your internal mental composure. I had such a piece of news yesterday about someone I know. This is someone young who has been dealt the worst blow fate can bestow. I prefer not to elaborate, except to say life is even more unfair than I had ever imagined it could be, indifferent yet cruel. I cannot put myself in the shoes of either him or his poor parents; my empathy is defeated, turned aside by cowardice, fear and self-preservation and compassion is all I can allow.
Putting aside my anger at God for not existing, an inaction that I have never forgiven him for, I just shake my head at the tragedy of it all.

So, I shoehorn my wretched powerlessness into a container in my head, squeezing the lid down to contain it as best I can, I shove it out of the way on a shelf in my mind, where I know that at some point in the indistinct future, it will again burst free to torture me. In the dark of some night, the arbitrary nature of the Universe and its events will hang oppressively over me and I will toss and turn, thanking whatever providence, guiltily, that the lightning bolt flew past me and mine, and struck someone else.
But I know I will remain fearful in the knowledge that nobody is really safe and pain may be mine if probability decrees.

But fear and bitterness are not helpful and I try to find some means by which there may any shred of good to come from such an awful situation.

Yesterday, I was reminded by an email to complete my holiday calendar for this year. In 2010, it seems, I did not take all my allotted vacation days, leaving me with two weeks unused. Of these, I can retain a week for use next year, but five days must be taken if they are not to be lost.
I resolve to distribute these over the next couple of weeks.

But what kind of indictment on a life is this? How shameful that a man in his prime (well, ish) should finish a year having been too busy, distracted or indecisive to fully utilise all the free time that is his due. What the hell was I thinking?

So, given that life is finite and destiny can render it potentially significantly shorter than we anticipated, it is a crime that we do not make more of it. Well, I say "we" but obviously here I mean "I". What was so important in those warmer days throughout the year that I could not look out of the window and say "Tomorrow, I am going to the sea in my van!" or "Next week, we should go away somewhere nice for a couple of days." ?

Thinking back, actually: Nothing.

Now here we are in the frigid winter where days are short and everything is frozen solid for days at a time. And I have to find some way to reasonably use up five days, other than Christmas shopping, buying pointless things for people that they never expressed a desire to own. What a waste!

If anything is to be salvaged from the message of tragedy it is the hackneyed stolen phrase "Carpe Diem". A wearisome, overused cliché but nonetheless relevent.
But how do we sieze the day? Well, first of all, perhaps timely reminders not to be so bogged down and defeated by the minor trials and obstacles that make up everyday life: The everyday life that we are suddenly confronted with losing sometimes and hence then treasure.
Somehow, though, small obstacles and inertia become a barrier to worthy use of free time. I can't find the headphones for my mp3 player so I don't go to the gym. I am afraid my friends will be busy so I don't call them to see if they want to go out to see a band. I am listening to a podcast of "In Our Time" so, I can't pick up the phone to see if my mother is in for me to visit. Its all just a bit troublesome to do.
Finding the energy to power the momentum, to build it to escape-velocity for whatever rut or armchair we find ourselves languishing in, can feel insurmountable.

So, when the sun shines, or even when it rains, and opportunity beckons, I shall think of my friend and of all the other misfortunes that can randomly smite us, and I shall use his adversity and my respect for him to lever me from my lassitude and into action.
So, this morning, mindful of this, I aquiesced to an introductory diving course.
Why not?

Friday, 26 November 2010

Dance with me.

I sit at the edge of the dance floor. I have arrived after the beginners' lesson and observe the inter-lesson freestyle that always happens for four or five songs. The ballroom in the Bath Pavillion is a lovely venue and now it is in a relative darkness that could in no way be described as gloom.
Points of laser light cheerfully play across the ceiling, making it apparent that light only exists at its point of destination. The room is full of couples dancing with a greater or lesser degree of expertise but all are in time with the music.

Some faces are frowning in concentration, but all are the faces of those in a happy place.
The song is not particularly compelling: A regular beat with some nasal female singing, much in evidence in these days of re-invented RnB (I always understood RnB to be an old black toothless geezer in shades and a shabby suit growling to 12 bar blues in a smoky dive. Now it is something altogether more commercial and characterless)

I used to be able to dance to anything that had a beat of the about the right tempo. Now it seems some music leaves me cold and, having nothing to interpret, I cannot motivate myself to move to it. This is one such song. Other songs have soul. Their emotion comes directly through the airwaves to my jive glands (wherever they are) and my limbs, torso and occasionally face, must by necessity interpret it into rhythmic movement. It compels.

But for now, come in out of the cold, having slipped out of my big coat and exchanged my outdoor shoes for my trusty dance brogues, I just sit and look.

Oddly, though I know all the moves, watching other people doing them makes them unfamiliar to the point I actualy don't recognise some. I am impressed and think "Oh, that is so beautifully intricate!" and then I realise with surprise that it's one I do all the time. An external perspective can seemingly modify our view of the familiar.
So, I sit and watch the dancing, the men leading, having to decide on what move to do and having the next several lined up barely consciously, the ladies subtly interpreting the signals of intention inferred from balance, direction and posture. It is a miracle of planning and coordination, all done pretty much without thought somewhere in the brainstem.

Only, I suddenly feel a familiar panic: "I can't do this!"

Looking at the actions performed and the fluidity and familiarity which which they are accomplished, my intellect shies away from the possibillity that I could do this, despite the knowledge that hundreds of nights before this one, I have got up and done so. The intellect is not to be convinced by this mere pile of evidence and continues to doubt.

The song ends. The next one is Santana, "Smooth". Not a song I particularly liked before I started dancing, but now one of my firm favourites. I could not explain what about it causes such joy of movement, but the song lifts me up and makes me the happiest person in the room, with movements and facial expressions that unequivocally illustrate this.

A lady approaches, her head tilted to one side in silent inquiry: "Would you dance with me?"
"Of course!" my outstretched hand replies. Our wordless exchange understood, she takes my hand, I stand and on to the dance floor we go. The way of walking to an unoccupied space feels light, confident, joyously well-balanced; Almost a dance in itself. We turn to face each other and then without a thought, that which I had observed begins happening. The music rises and falls in a beat of halves of seconds perhaps, and my body responds with a lead. The lady in turn reacts to my lead with her own sway and turn and the dance begins.
And somehow, all this now has happened in spite of te protestations of my own mind telling me that it looks far too complicated and must surely be cause for me to stumble and stall.
But no: Inside my head, a mass of neural machinery lights up and kicks into action, and the result is the true synergy of two bodies moving gleefully in time.

I don't know how this happens. I ciould not articulate from where the dubious attitude of my inner narrator comes. But that in itself is a lesson for a greater principle perhaps. Perhaps sometimes we should just trust ourselves a little more. Our intellectual voice seems destined to undermine and sabotage us and perhaps we should just do stuff anyway and have faithin our abilities.

And so, years of classes and dancing have impinted themselves somewhere in my brain and have left this wonderful programming that will unfurl flawlessly given suitable conditions: The right music, the touch of a lady's hand, soft lighting and an amenable atmosphere. Bits of salsa, tango, cha cha and other styles of my own devising throw themselves into the mix and mystified, I find we are dancing.

We move away, a spin, a grasp of a hand, a coming-together of faces. The space in between almost shimmers with intensity as two faces regard each other, holding of the transition to the next move right until the last allowable minute. we both savour the closeness of another human being for as long as possible before one beat becomes the next. Then quickly, from the languid approach, a contrasting rapid change of direction away again.
And the moves keep appearing, unannounced and yet flowing smoothly, followed and enjoyed. Leans, dips, drops, spins and laughs. For four minutes or so, there are only two people in the room and there is the music.

The song ends, we stand, smile our thank-yous and turn, other hands are offered and a new song begins, another dialogue of movement, cheerful, sultry, mischevous or dramatic. Its up to you. You choose the music and I will lead.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Audience

I recently found the "stats" button on my dashboard page. I am not sure at the veracity of the data here but taking it at face value, it appears to be interesting and sobering reading.
The first thing that strikes me is that this very blog has had 354 views in its three years of existence. I guess that is one every three days on average. Not a great deal I suppose, but it means that at least someone has stumbled over the page and perhaps read the words deposited for better or worse upon it.
What intrigues me more is the audience. Ok, the most significant audience appears to be the USA with just under a third of hits, then the UK with about a fifth. I do know some people in the US, but I am not sure they know of the existence of this blog, so I can ony assume these are passers-by.
Then of course Germany with about the same (thank you my dear loyal friends, especially you, my Friendly Librarian).
However, a proportion of the hits are from South Korea, Brazil and Iraq. Iraq? Who reads this drivel in Iraq? DOn't you have more pressing things to be worrying about than the pathetic angst and irrelevent ramblings of some bloke in England? I mean, a war torn country where bombs go off on a daily basis surely must wrest control of the attention from such trivial things as the struggles with inarticulacy of a mediocre intellect and the activities of cypriot ants?

A small note of disquiet however, is sounded in my mind by the sudden visceral realisation (grasped intellectually from the beginning of this verbal journey several years ago) is that these outpourings are public and that anyone exposing their inner fears and hopes on the internet, should do so in the knowledge that ANYONE with a computer can read them.
Of course, how the readers choose to interpret the words they read is entirely up to them, though the skill of the author in expressing the meaning clearly will obviously help to keep the intention clear. But offence can be taken, meanings misinterpreted and passions inflamed in a number of ways. We would all do well to bear this in mind I think.

Well, wherever you hail from, dear readers, meagre in number as you are, I salute you for your curiosity and well, just generally, say a cheery "Hello!" from Gloucestershire. And whatever interpretation you choose to take from any of my ramblings, please understand that they are meant with whatever sincerity my blackened and tattered conscience can muster on that particular day.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Brain intransigence

I wake feeling heavy. The vestiges of this week's Black Dog visitation leaving a residue akin to heavy metals in a kidney. A numb mind, insulated from feelings, gradually comes online.

A leaden torpor holds me to the bed and, extending to my eyes, exert a force of reluctance on my eyelids. In my own localised region of gravity, I am heavier than usual and rising from bed is a challenge I feel I may not meet. The temptation to fall back in is almost overwhelming, but I totter to the bathroom on unsteady, unwilling legs.
At breakfast, I sit drinking my tea, hoping that the stimulants and rehydration will perform their magic on my sluggish brain. They do not. The list of tasks i have to accomplish today, in preparation for my trip later this afternoon, swims fuzzily in my mind's eye. Indistinct and blurred, I can see nothing of it, not even how many items, roughly, it comprises. When my mind tries to grasp individual obligations as they swim around in my head like elusive carp, they dodge behind the waving pond weed of distraction. My mental net, wielded by clumsy metaphysical hands, is far too slow to catch even one and thwarted, I give up and eat my porridge.

The inside of my head is filled with some resistant fluid, somehow too viscous to allow the propagation of thought. Attempts to remember my commitments for the day result in confusion and disorientation.

How can I coerce this unreliable organ into cooperating with me?

A second cup of tea yields no more result than the first. I fire up my laptop, peruse some emails, the contents of which I know to be of critical importance to an ongoing issue.
I will be called to account, to explain the situation using the information contained in these missives. But the words skate uselessly off the surface of my eyes and no meaning can be discerned. Oh, this is so frustrating!

Perhaps exercise will help. I pull on my running clothes and shoes and step out into the uncharacteristically gorgeous Autumn sunshine. It is a little windy, but far warmer than it should be for October. And, starting my stopwatch, off i go.

I love "having been for a run", but I hate running. On a bicycle, I am fast, possibly faster than almost anyone apart from club cyclists or those naturally endowed with advantageous muscle composition. I can maintain an easy 20mph for some hours.
But running, I am ponderous.

I do not run fast. I trudge. Like some preposterous human ironclad, my 100kg bulk stumbles along, step after step. The first minute is actually not too difficult, though I pace myself slowly.
The subsequent five minutes are horrible. My breathing increases in depth and speed and my upper ribs feel constrictive like the fingers of Giger's face-hugging creation in Alien. Gradually though, the lungs ease up and an easy rhythm is attained, though my progress is still slow for a runner.
Now, the North Wind picks up, which is good as along the long straight, punishing road up to the scarp, I start to get a little hot. I have overdressed for this unseasonal warmth and the sweat seems to be squirting out of my forehead. I am grateful for the efforts of the North Wind, though it is in my face and impeding me (though probably less than I believe).
Turning left to run along the bottom of the hills, I see how beautiful it looks in the sun. The trees still have most of their leaves and the ramparts of the bronze-age hill fort can be seen a few hundred feet above me. on this lane, about halfway through my run, i usually recite Shakespeare's 18th sonnet as a test of my exertion. If i can do it all the way through without gasping, but without to much ease, i have got it about right. i did have heart rate monitor, but i found it tedious to wear. This is adequate for the purposes of removing the obscuring layer of fat from my belly.
Today though, I am listening to Radio4, "Woman's Hour" about handwashing. It is quite interesting, so no sonnet today.
I really am still feeling rather ungainly though and my legs, used to different rhythm, are starting to complain at the unusual mode of use.
I pass the 5km mark at an embarrassing time: Over four minutes longer than at my best.
At last however, the forcing of heavily oxygenated blood through my reluctant brain, appears to be paying off. Destined for muscles, the oxygen-rich blood pushes through the blockages, flushes away the lethargy and coherence starts to appear.
Thoughts are starting to happen now of their own accord: Snatches of sentences, enjoyable phrases, remembrances of things I have to do.
I arrive at my door and fumble for my key.

Collapsing into a chair, it seems hardly seconds since I strode purposefully down the drive to begin. And yet, in the intervening time, much has happened at the level of sensation and thought. This paradoxical mismatch of chronologies always leaves me uncomfortable. But here I am, somewhere near 100% again. At least, i think so.
I guess you will have to be the judge of that.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Immersion in Ether

Some times in one's life are, when recollected, saturated with intensity and emotion, possibly added nostalgically after the fact. Nevertheless, recalling a time of exquisite feeling and atmosphere can bring you sweetly back to the feelings of that time with a poignancy that sometimes almost hurts.
There have been such times in the last decade, times of exhilarating self-discovery, of breathtaking exploration and intimacy that the memories become treasured, only to be recollected occasionally lest the potency be degraded, like a photo left exposed to the light over years, fading and losing the vividness that was so precious.

Certain music has the power to aid or trigger such nostalgic retrospection. Currently, and the reason for my musing on this particular idea, i am listening to Turin Brakes "ether Song", which brings to mind the most profound, beautiful and exciting period of my life. It was a time when my perceptions of myself as a creature of drab ordinariness and pitiful flaws was being challenged, both by myself and by some people who came into my life suddenly at that point.
A crack in my self-image was being prized open by quietly spoken but convincing arguments from people I respected and a new me was emerging, painfully and cataclismically but with such a sense of wonder and excitement that I was left reeling and disoriented with the headiness of my discoveries. It was, as I realise now, a profound metamorphosis that I benefit from every day of my life now.

Well, that is another story. There have been other times of similar significance for which other musical triggers exist. the above is just the one which comes to mind from the listening of these current tracks. That they can conjure all the feelings of the time accurately and clearly as if I was once again in that place is a wonderful benefit of the power of music.
But a self-indulgent documentary of the sweeter and more personal chapters of my own particular life is not at all my point here, except to illustrate a principle that occurs from regard of the topic: Does remembrance of a time of significance, with all its attendant emotional piquancy, cause degradation of the memories?

Does listening to the songs that take you back there cause them over time to lose that ability to relocate you in time and place and emotion?

I fear it may. Hence I limit myself to only infrequent listenings of these songs and immersion in their reminiscence. I would hate to become inured to their effect and to lose the feelings and hence the enlightenments that they engender.

Ok, I concede it is dangerous and foolish to dwell in the past anyway. But our growing and learning as people is a strange process whereby a new talent, understanding or capability is initially a novel new toy that we learn to play with and develop into something that assists us in our dealings with the world and its inhabitants. Initially the shiny new component of ourselves rests obtrusively upon our psyches, inviting use and feeling distinctly conspicuous. But over time, it becomes assimilated into who we are and a part of our usual functionality, to the extent we may forget that we have it. Consequentially, if it is something we were delighted to find, as I was, we may lament that we have misplaced it somehow and reverted to our former way of being.

So, listening to these songs and sending myself back to a time when every day brought a new and wonderful realisation, causes me to revisit the features and characteristics, previously unacknowledged and hence unused, that were brought startlingly to my attention.

I suppose the fear is that, ultimately, i may, "lose the feeling" and I do so enjoy being the person I am now, even if it does sometimes upset or annoy people.

So, with my 5000 or so mp3s here, when shall go to now?

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The atmosphere of rain

I was in no hurry to get up. The sky was full of clouds, my customers are mostly on holiday and the office is pretty much empty. I downloaded my email but there was nothing pressingly urgent so I determined to do some work for an hour or so and then to cycle to the office. I wouldnt go at all were it not for the rather pleasant 11 mile ride through mostly pretty countryside. One cannot disregard the health benefits of 22 miles a day of cycling.

But as I finished my breakfast, the clouds thickened until it seemed from the light that surely up there above them, a partial eclipse must be obscuring a significant proportion of daylight.

Then came the rain, with an insistent hissing and a force to batter leaved from trees.
And it hasnt stopped now for half an hour. Straight down it comes, perpendicular to the ground and unceasing. Large, rapid raindrops, assertive and indifferent.

It puts me in mind of my early childhood when, uncomprehending of what lay beyond my immediate gaze, I watched similar rain for what seemed like days.
A four year old gazing at the late 1960s gloom of a dull, characterless suburb of Bristol, I watched as the rain, like glass beads, bounced ceaselessly off the concrete of the garden and filled the gutters, tumbling, as I remember for some reason, lolly sticks down into the drains and carrying the rainbow covering of used engine oil that leaked from all cars in those days.
Sometimes it poured, other days it was just interminable drizzle which seemed to be too lazy to even attempt to be proper rain.

And I, in my infant state, saw the rain, somehow between me and a world that I didnt yet really know, and which I sensed was largely indifferent to the wants and thoughts of a small boy. The rain served to confine me there, insulated from the incomprehensible world, but also as a comforting barrier and reminder of the safety and warmth of my own little world inside the house, as my mum did all those things a very young 1960s housewife needed to do.

Out in the world, there was a lot to think about. I knew this because my grandfather would doze off in front of documentaries leaving me to watch and wonder at the diversity of environments and peoples that lay beyond my experience. We didnt have a telly at home, but i stayed with him a lot and most of my understanding of what the world contained was from such gems as "The World about us" and also from the National Geographic magazines he brought home from the childrens home where he was a gardener and stoked the boilers.

I remember there was a city. It was, I was told, Sweden, and I remember vividly, the atmospheric glockenspiel music, a seemingly exotic street front and a sense of "otherness" from the streets of terraced houses and even the big buildings I saw when we would take "Our Tim" on the double decker bus to the Dental Hospital periodically (the grandest outing of my small life).
later, i would travel a lot to Stockholm and suddenly one day, a street exactly like the one I remembered hove into view as my taxi stopped at the hotel. Something told me a milestone in my exploration of the world had been achieved. The rain had stopped.

And now, i am here, in my own house, my own children pretty-much grown up and heading out into their own discovery of the world that doubtless they formed their own perspective on on the rainy days of their early childhoods.
I watch the rain and am four again. I feel the same sense of mystery at what lies beyond the curtains of crashing rain.

Much I have seen, more I hope to see.

Read more:

Monday, 19 July 2010

Quite frankly, a bit rubbish

Oh, I know I said I wouldnt but it seems i am destined to extrude words for the rest of my articulate days. But my former reticence comes from a valid position, which i will now explain a little of.

It started when I was at school, about 6 or so. I suppose it was the growing emphasis on literacy that started it. Once our rudimentary and individual styles of handwriting had been developed, it became clear to me that there were those who could produce clear, tidy, attractive oieces of work. And there was mine. Similarly, with drawing, but that was ok. I knew some people were artists and others werent. It was the writing which was expected of us that caused me most discouragement and later pain.

Mine always looked untidy. We were asked for a piece of work by the teacher and it was apparent this was our obligation. My clumsily formed scrawl was always conspicuous by its malformed and scruffy jumble (though it was, I contend, always legible)
The content was at best, secondary, but the style was all. And my style was messy and a bit crap.

And i always envied those people who could turn out such attractive stuff, stuff which made my attempts look so inferior by comparison that I felt shamed and embarrased. So, I tried my hardest to make mine good too, only somehow, i never managed to do it and the results were still always messy, untidy and criticised.

And so, I realised that other people can do good stuff, whereas, I on the other hand, was destined to always produce second rate stuff. I was a bit rubbish at football, I couldnt draw, I was gawky and clumsy. I didnt excel or even become adequate at anything, It seemed.

So, I grew up, my handwriting remained awful (but legible!), I was sent to remedial writing classes with illiterate kids who could not read two-syllable words. At home I was reading serious adult books, quality literature, borrowed from the library with my mum's tickets.
But my handwriting was so bad that it seemed to offend against some standard set by the educational establishmet. So, in place of assembly every Tuesday, i was sent to a class with possibly the most self-ignorantly stupid man i have ever met. And my handwriting never improved.
At this time, i wrote a couple of pieces for the shool magazine which were universally lauded and I began to realise that my content was a little beyond the average. But O levels and A levels left me too busy to explore this and I never really explored this aspect.

And so, I continued to perform in a mediocre fashion, admiring those dazzling people who seemed to do everything right, and wo were usually attractive and better dressed than me, and wishing fate had supplied me the attributes to do the same. But I was resigned to my lot and I went on to get nine fairly mediocre O levels, except of course English, in which I excelled (I was beginning to get an inkling by then), and physics which I enjoyed.
Others got 10 A grades, some by swotting relentlessly and others by dint of apparent sheer brilliance.

And then A levels came: I worked a bit, still no longer distinguishing myself particularly. I discovered girls, alcohol, the usual kind of thing. And for my efforts I got some extremely poor grades in Maths, Physics and Chemistry that were just enough to get me into a very crap polytechnic in a grim and godforsaken part of the world.

Then I took up the banjo and went busking and generally didnt do all that much work. But I sensed that had I worked harder, my performance probably would not have been significantly better as I generally found the subject matter laborious and tedious, and well, everything I did ended up a bit crap anyway. So, engineering was not me and academia was not something I took to easily, though everyone seemed to expect me to.
And so, I failed the first year of my degree, which was silly, and suffered the ignominy of falling down into the HND class, largely regarded as some kind of remedial course for dullards by most of the peole I associated with.
I scraped a pass. Just.

This enabled me to get a job at British Aerospace. I didnt really want to work there but none of my other interviews bore fruit. It seems this grim and pretty crap establishment was all that would accept me. And so I farted about for a couple of years, working with people who had given up all hope of being productive happy humans until I could bear no more of the Death of Aspiration and left to work on the production line at the company I now work for.

There, due to my crap qualifications, I was not allowed to do anything worthy as I was apparently a bit thick, what with not having a degree and all. the management stated (to my face) that without a good honours degree, I would not be accepted into the engineering community as they "didnt want to dilute the skill pool".
And so, one day, I had a furious row with an influential manager who basically fired me. Luckily, my own manager took pity on me and pointed me towards a job that was going in marketing and I went for it and got it, much to my surprise and delight. And truly, it was the making of me. I found working with people, explaining technical concepts and reading responses from posture, expression and gesture to be much easier and more rewarding than engineering. I used a lot of words and I could type them.

Here I discovered that, though I am a bit slapdash, which has generally been the root of most of the crap results I got when i tried to do something worthwhile, I am actually quite good with words. Released from the tyranny of using a pen, which my fine motor coordination always struggled with, words can flow freely and the myriad ideas that course through my head are given voice in a way that frees them and allows them to associate with other ideas, sometimes to a hyperbole that when I subsequently read them, I cannot recollect writing them, or scarce believe I was in fact the author.

And so, as I stood miserably in the shower yesterday, remarking to myself on the mediocrity with which most of my endeavours have been met, it occurred to me that stringing words together to portray thoughts I have is really the only thing I have found myself to be half-decent at.

Oh, occasionally people say I have a "gift" for words or I "should write a book" but I take this with a grain of salt. Others are equally good or better and I have no pretensions of being professional at it.
But I do think I am probably better than average at it and so, casting aside my recent grumpy petulance, I feel it would be a shame were I not to do the only thing I have ever been pleased with the results of.

And so here I am!

life to an inner soundtrack

Some people are, apparently, visual: Their inner life runs on images that represent what they think about, how they approach problems, the way their world is laid out symbolically. I have always envied this in a vague kind of way. The ability to close one's eyes and call to mind a picture must be incredibly useful. I have never been able to do it.

In truth, part of the reason behind my resentment is that I always thought it would be a really cool seduction technique to be able to say to a lady "Let me draw you" and enigmatically, scribble away with few words except "a-huh.. hmm mmm" and "turn a little to the left please so I can catch that curl better".

Alas, fumbling fingers which reject the idea of pencils aside, I have little sense of the visual and have been unable to develop one despite many hours of intense practise over the years. And so, I come to the conclusion that, in this aspect, the nature-nurture debate has shown a clear conclusion. I am not visual.

But, my world is ruled by a sense of sound and bodily position. My head is filled with music all the time and I can call to mind a Tchaikovsky Symphony, note-for-note accurately in those moments when I find myself somewhere needing some kind of entertainment.
I first did this, oddly, with Wings, "Band on the Run" in French lessons at school, which I found excruciatingly dull to the point of almost physical pain. Imagine my delight to find an inner passtime that required no props or equipment and which could occupy me in those arid moments of intellectual drought.

Interestingly, I also always found a kind of auditory-kinaesthetic synaesthesia between a sound and a movement.
To explain what I mean: Everyone is familiar with certain sounds which conjure up a movement - the sound of a tomato hitting a tiled floor after being dropped is very evocative and one can instantly, if they work in any way siimilar to me, see in their "Mind's eye" the impact, or in my case, feel the weight and the sudden giving-way of the skin to the force of the contents, tasting the juice and possibly slipping on it and banging a knee on a cupboard.
The sound of a drop of water falling into a pool of water in an otherwise silent envirnment may also summon an image or a feeling of the ripples spreading out.
So we are all equipped with this sensory cross-wiring.

Now, when, for instance I hear a latin rhythm, it "knocks" inside my legs and hips. It's hard to explain that in words. But some unseen force causes my limbs to move synchronously with the beat and my hips to sway in a complex fourrier-synthesised set of waves. This is entirely involuntary and is "suggested" to my body without seemingly going through my conscious mind.
Similarly, a glissando on a guitar may cause my arm to want to move of its own acord upwards and outwards, describing an arc that the sliding note implies with an obviousness that requires purely physical description.

Sometimes, when I have to give a presentation and I am unsure of the material, as I walk up to present, the first bars of the violin from "El Tango de Roxanne" will play in my head, so vividly that I am ceertain it must be audible to those present (Indeed, once I did actually ask a lunch companion if they could "hear that?" and put my head close to theirs. People can be so judgmental sometimes, don't you find?). The strutting gait and almost arrogance implied by the passionate Tango beat cannot fail but induce an almost involuntary strutting and upright confident bearing. It works perfectly for my purposes.

Today, i have in my head, loud as the radio in the car might be in that space, Diana Krall, "Temptation", which is one of the sexiest songs I can imigine and is beautiful to dance to with a lady of a similar receptiveness.

As this is constantly playing in my head, my every move around the place is informed by this internal soundtrack and as a result, I cannot move in any way other than that of a tomcat on a hot sultry night when the air is filled with female-on-heat pheromones.
Luckily, there is almost nobody here to see. But in my mind, each step towards the coffee machine is imbued with a delight in the movement and a joy at the control over my limbs which today feels absolute.

In my head, life is one long dance. Sometimes a strut, sometimes a slink, occasionally a tap dance.

I think I am happy to accept this in exchange for the lack of a capacity for mental visual imagery.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Ambition, commitment and satisfaction

am sitting eight floors up in the Westin Grand Hotel in Munich. It is a very hot day and the airconditioning is forgiven for the intrusive noise it makes. As hotels go, it is rather plush and I cannot believe the travel system had it on its books and allowed me to book it. But it did and now here i am, feeling like a VIP and frankly, a bit of a fraud. It seems like the height of Western dacadence to be in such a hotel, with its glass and chrome and dark wood. Everything costs extra: breakfast 20 euros, internet 19 euros a day. Extortion really. I could never afford to pay for this out of my own pocket and frankly, I am not sure I would. I don't think it represents value for money, though i confess, it feeds my ego a little to stay here. It makes me feel a "somebody", which is illusory I know, but in contrast to feeling a "nobody" as seems to be the worst social fate that can befall us in these unenlightened times, I will accept it.
But not without thought.

I am here doing this because a large corporation values my skills. In a few hours I shall stand in front of a room of very well educated, very sharp, extremely intelligent people from three continents, and present some technical information. I am good at this.
Am I good enough to warrant the huge corporate expenditure that sent me here and accommodates me?

Did I expect or want to be doing this? Actually no. In truth, I expected to be a truck driver, like my father, or at best, some kind of technician soldering electronic circuits at a bench (which I did do for a while and didn't like). In short: I had no ambition to do this.

Now some people have a clear idea of what they want out of life. I have worked with people who were so "driven" that they had their whole career and associated lifestyle, mapped out in advance, some in quite minute detail. I knew people who had "action plans" for their whole lives, milestones they want to achieve at certain times, places they wanted to be by a certain stage in life.
This is admirable, possibly a little misguided because plans have a habit of hitting the unexpected and becoming derailed, but to have a plan may be a comforting and focussing thing. I applaud those who do this. The Driven are the ones who become our doctors, surgeons, architects, engineers. I am glad there are such people.

I never plan. For that reason. Like the old prizefighting adage: "Everyone has a plan until they get hit!" I find flexibility and keeping one's with about you is a better approach. For me.

And so, that is, I suppose how I came to be here. And occasionally I look up and am surprised, because it seemed to happen when I wasn't looking.

So, it occurs to me there are the driven who know exactly what they want and are quite singleminded in their approach to getting it. Then there are, I suspect, the large majority, like me, who think "this is ok, this is enough" and are happy to go where employment (or other driving force such as art or writing) may lead them, as long as it doesn't demand too much of them. It finances life, makes those things that are dear to us available to a level we are more or less happy with (although I would like to get to the sea a bit more often and dance more, I confess), but doesn't suck the very goodness out of us such that we have nothing left over to enjoy life with.

Of course there are also those who are forced to work really hard in jobs that grind them down, for low pay and long hours, with no alternative. I thank my lucky stars I have been lucky enough not to end up there, like most of my ancestors.
And there are those who, bovine, sit all day at a job that taxes them hardly at all, and are happy to watch sky TV with a pizza and not think about where they are going. This too is a valid choice.

I recently attended a university open day with my son, who has this choice ahead of him. The course outlined were very clearly defined, modular and progressive. If one followed this route, the qualifications gained would probably ensure valued employment and respect for a lifetime. The workload was only really alluded to. The progression then could be to a masters, chartered engineer status or a Phd.
I looked at the faces in the room: A range from shiny faced enthusiasm through chin-on-hand slouched boredom and the potential ladder of disciplined striving and glorious attainment stretching ahead of them. Such an opportunity.

And I thought: Gosh, that's a lot to do. I really couldn't be bothered. My own meagre qualifications, from this very college, we sufficient to gain me a foothold somewhere I could show my own potential, but there was so much more I could have done to get a better grades. These kids may look at it differently to me, indeed the circumstances are changed and they may need more that I scraped. I was lucky.
But I think of what I learned and where it took me and it cannot be denied that education is a precious and necessary thing, for how could I explain the complex technical concepts I do, without the seeds of the knowledge I gained there?

And then, I thought of the good times, the weekends by the sea, out in my kayak, drinking port by the fire in the evenings and indolent days bobbing about in the waves.
And it brings me back to the realisation that the most important word in the English language is "balance". I balance the commitment to the economic necessities of work such that I can have the time and the money to do these other things. Certainly, I have the commitments to be in places and be credible in what I do, which is a challenge sometimes. But the real driver for me is the beauty of experiences, the good company I find them with and the appreciation of just being in a nice place with good people doing interesting things. Whence Bohemia indeed!

Somewhere between being a somebody and a nobody is the fine point where expectations are realistically met and responsibilities are acknowledged. Finding the balance is an art in itself.

I have so much more to say on this but given the above, I had better get on with my presentation for this afternoon!

Monday, 28 June 2010

Awareness, hazards and leopards

so, my first blog written on my new phone. as usual, i am writing from the seat of an aeroplane, high up over the channel. i can't say i like the keys very much but it still is much preferable to the discomfort of pen and paper which to this day seems like a trial to burden my poor fingers and hinder the flow of ideas from my head to the page.

My sterile sandwich is eaten, its wrapper all that remains of the neatest and least appealing package of nourishment I could imagine (except perhaps a fly proffered in spider silk). A perfectly groomed orange-faced man pours me ghastly coffee which i attempt to make palatable with copious amounts of sugar and "cream" that could never have seen the inside of an udder. I have a sudden overwhelming urge for a home-made baguette filled with turkey, stuffing and mayonnaise and briefly wonder where these cravings originate before turning my gaze out of the window.

I see now a landscape of fields cities and roads. Some roads are big and though i cannot see them, i know there are cars tearing along them at speeds which make our reaction times seem ponderously slow and which can suddenly become very aparent when the illusion of control is shattered by an unexpected motoring hazard.

It is a tamed landscape where one could wander thoughtful, distracted and absorbed completely in one's inner world without the slightest need for any kind of vigilance.

Recently, I was cycling to work along some very small, remote and winding roads when I noticed that on every bend there were skidmarks. This implies to me the kind of indifference to hazard I previously mentioned above. Obviously, a significant number of drivers are often surprised to discover another vehicle coming the other way and are forced to brake from what appears to have been an inappropriate speed to avoid an unexpected collision. This, along with such foolishness as texting whilst negotiating a busy intersection (and going straight through red lights as I have seen often), offers us examples of life-threatening stupidity which are remarkably common and only go unpunished because fate is mostly kind to us despite ourselves. It strikes me again and again just how poor the standard-issue imagination is regarding potential dangers.

Throughout most of human history, far greater vigilance was required if one's safety was valued. A walk in the woods would have been a very bad idea indeed and to be avoided at all costs. Bears, wolves, leopards and unfriendly fellow humans might be encountered at any turn of whatever rudimentary paths one followed.

Daydreaming or not paying attention to the environment could see you become lunch or merely dead. Wandering down the road in a complete daze of ignorance was not an option for the wary who wished to survive the attentions of predators both animal and human. For almost all of our species' existence, such forces of predation have pruned humanity mercilessly, punishing stupidity and complacency by removing the stupid and complacent from the population. Until now.

And so this leads me to wonder if people were by necessity more vigilant, even perhaps more intelligent, when life was more risky.

There is no doubt that careering round a blind bend at a speed where you could not stop were you to meet someone similarly reckless coming the other way, is pretty stupid and one can only get away with such stupidity in a world made artificially safe by our own human regulation and invention. In the past, surely equivalent stupidity must have been rewarded by an early death, or at least injury sufficient to remove one from the gene pool?

When not paying attention and stumbling about haphazardly could mean an untimely end on the horns of an angry buffalo, were people more aware in general?

It just seems to me that it is very easy to live, in the West in the 21st century. It can be achieved safely and effortlessly by even the most gormless of individuals. If one so wishes, they can lie on the sofa and eat ice cream all day, ordered from the internet and delivered to the door by the perky little man from Sainsbury's. No hunting, gathering or personal risk is involved apart from getting a job of some kind. The wages of the lowest paid worker would here cover the needs of mere existence, at an extreme. Fecklessness abounds and nobody gets eaten or stomped as a result.

But throughout history life was hard and hazardous, and usually quite short. If the leopards didnt fall on your puny and defenceless frame as you struggled back to your cave bearing the odd antelope, or more likely, handful of berries, then cholera, parasites or bands of marauding warriors from the other tribes possibly awaited with malice in mind. Best keep your eyes peeled if you want to survive!

But now, we don't have to fear any of those in general. Life is grindingly safe and people are largely docile.....

i suppose, once, humans were as jumpy and cautious as deer in the woods, and probably with good reason. Most animals in the wild are seemingly permanently hungry, permanently scared and often, ready to mate at a moment's notice lest opportunity be curtailed violently. It paid to start at every rustle or to avoid walking under trees that looked as if they had something large, spotty and cat shaped , even if it was actually nothing.

Was life sharper though? Did it provide a more authentic set of experiences, born of the acceptance of the possibility of sudden, imminent death?

It seems perhaps a strange question. If you live on the edge of existence, constantly aware it may end at any moment, does it have a more vivid texture, as opposed the insulated, sometimes bovine, existence of today?

Possibly this is a quaint romantic notion born of the ignorance of how wretched living in constant fear and vigilance can be. But could there be an acceptance that just being alive is inherently a Good Thing without the intrusions of seemingly daft existential questions about 'why are we here?'

Well. I will enjoy the security that 21st century civilised living supplies but i will attempt to remain vigilant. There aren’t any bears in Gloucestershire but one never knows when vigilance might pay off and perhaps I will stop living in my head so much and see a bit more of what is around me

Monday, 5 April 2010

the waxing and waning of passions

Humans always seem to need to do stuff. Most people have activities they would prefer to be doing above all others, Throughout my life, I have had many such passtimes.
From 7 to 12, I just wanted to collect fossils, rocks, minerals. I found the idea of stumbling across specimens to be exciting beyond anything else I could conceive of.
At 12 I got into electronics. The principles of circuits I found unbelievably alluring and wanted to do nothing else for a couple of years but sit in my room making gadgets that did various cool things.
Puberty kicked in and there was a girl who similarly held my focus for a few years. The another. And eventually a long term one.
At 17 I had been practising karate for about 4 years and it really took hold of me. I loved the feeling of control over my limbs (at last!) and the nimbleness that the movements brought me. But then I discovered music when I was 18 and a student.
The next 8 years or so, I went busking, I played in some rubbish bands and I wanted to do nothing else but (oddly) play the banjo. It was all consuming and its presence in the corner of the room was irresistable. I could not help but pick it up and play it whenever I saw it.
Then there were the children and I was rather too tired for the next ten years to do anything much.
The banjo sits there unnoticed and I cannot remember now the attraction. It has no appeal whatsoever. From being an all consuming drive, music has faded to a complete indifference.
As with all my former passions, I remember that I was consumed with fervour that help my attention for much of my waking hours, but now, it has gone.

About ten years ago, it became words. The clamour in my head found voice through textual expression. No longer hampered by my inability to use a pen, I as free to clear out the noise and commit it to a page. It helped immensely. It became a passion.
And now, it appears as with all the other passions, it has passed. I no longer feel the need for expression. My words are useful certainly, for when I need to write a letter to school or an email explaining a particularly awkward situation to a customer. But I no longer need or even want to write anything. It has, like all the other passion, seemingly just gone away.
I can still bash out a tune on a guitar, throw a fearsome kick, build a circuit if I need to. I can still identify a brachiopod. But I don't feel the urge to indulge any of these things. The way, i no longer want to sit at a a keyboard or notebook to feel the flow of the words.
And neither has another passion displaced it. I can't say I really feel enamoured of any particular activity currently on offer to me. I like to dance, I like to get out in the sea on my kayak, but they are not passions per se. they don't move me the way the others did. They are just punctuation in an otherwise straightforward life.

capricious, isnt it, the human spirit?

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

A Craving

I remember the wave, like so many waves, real or metaphorical.
The sea is calm and the surface serene, like clean sheets on a bed. I take myself to the point where it feels that I should be, where the water is deep enough to be dangerous but currents are only hinted at below the surface.

Small ripples apear from out at sea but as yet, they are just echoes of something to come. I play with the wave, dipping my paddle in to turn me and spin the boat to an exact position. I am in perfect control as i stroke the water and in return, the water rocks me and lets me know i could, if i so chose, go with this wave, but with a deft flick of my wrist, i hold back and tease the wave that I can resist its force.

Each new wave, part of a set, comes in from the sea and each is bigger until at last I feel the time is right. This wave is the one: It is lifting me and i feel its power moving me towards the shore and I have reached a point where I have to go with it. It compels me to move in unison with its energy and I give in and feel the power of it lifting me and throwing me forward irresistably. My skin tingles and my scalp is electric as I am joined to this massive thing. The movement becomes unstoppable and my whole soul sings. i am immersed in absolute pleasure with every nerve ending singing and light in my head, like I am falling through space and time with the Universe standing still for a moment that seems to last a lifetime. Inside my mind and body, I am on fire and all attempts to control it are now abandoned as I just give in to the experience, just me on a kayak, and the wave that I am now caught up intimately with. It goes on and on and I fly fast with the sounds issuing forth from me unbidden. I feel it will never end!
But the wave abates, as is its nature, losing its power suddenly but still with enough energy to move me onwards, now slowly and calmly.

Breathless, I drift on to the sand and roll off the boat. I lie, spent, with the small ripples, remnants of waves, lapping at my tingling feet. My hands flat on the sand feel it as if it has never been felt before. The hills are startlingly green to the eye and the sky a blue of such crystal clear intensity that I really cannot understand why I have never seen it this way before.
And all is good with the world in that place, at that moment.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Moments of clarity

I live my life in a haze of confusion. Should I do this, is that a better option? Rarely is there a clear decision to be made on unequivocal facts requiring no interpretation. I dither, i prevaricate, I agonise, and I make choices. Most of the time the choice is abdication; The Status Quo.
Occasionally, I determine to make a change and act upon the result of some evaluation, rational (rarely) or intuitive (usually). Sometimes I am right, often I am wrong. It seems arbitrary given the iteratively revelatory nature of knowledge and information. I make my choice, new data appears. It confirms or disproves the correctness of my course of action.

Sometimes, due to my mental standpoint, a sense of absolute clarity appears. All uncertainly falls away and I KNOW deeply and profoundly the Right Way to go. At that singular moment, doubt becomes irrelevant or absent and certainty suddenly fills my consciousness. It is as if a tunnel has opened up between me and my goal through all the thrashing, distracting contradictions and I can SEE exactly what I need to do.

What a shame then it is to discover the illusory nature of such revelations. How disappointing to find that when I have had one of these moments, it has usually subsequently turned out to be an ill-advised course of action. Clarity was a misleading illusion produced somehow by a limited perspective and created by a combination of THAT moment and my particular, specific internal circumstances.
Intuition has its value, but we need to know exactly when to trust it and when to ignore its persuasive urging.

Most decisions which we make seem mostly at the mercy of luck. The cold, unfeeling Universe has no plan for us and no clear Way we should follow for enlightenment and happiness.

You pays your money and you takes your choice.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Give us this day, our daily bread

Once, work was necessary or starvation was the result. People lived in small family groups in natural surroundings where all that they required to survive had to be obtained from their environment. To subsist, they went out and gathered food from the wild and men (most likely) huddled behind trees with sharp sticks for days awaiting antelope or deer. If you didn’t make the effort, there was no food. The incentive to get up and not lie around in a pile of leaves all day, was the imperative to eat and the desire to stay alive and not to starve.

Then came civilization and organized labour. Still peasants had to work in order to eat and feed their families. But overlords and aristocrats demanded a share of the results of their toil. Obligation, whips and force backed up their claims to whatever portion they deemed their right. These were not good times for humanity and such systems still exist.

For a while, there was an age, in which I am proud to have worked, where toil involved more intellectual and cerebral tasks. In this, force would have been counterproductive. One cannot do a job that involves thinking constructively or creatively under duress; Customers cannot be infected with enthusiasm for products and services by those who are resentful and angry. Some management styles were enlightened enough to realise this and to therefore make the working environment and attitude towards those performing these jobs as pleasant and benevolent as could realistically be provided. It worked well. Happy people do better work and are more productive than unhappy people. The effectiveness of this approach was apparent in the extra effort that people put in and the results that therefore ensued.

Then came the focus on shareholder value and “bottom line”. Whereas some have to work where pain, discomfort and fear break their spirit and hard, physical work breaks their bodies, now there are different whips. Shoulders may wear out due to heavy lifting for decades and arthritis riddle overburdened knees. But now, other pressures degrade our physical wellbeing.

Bullying, oppressive regimes squeeze out “cost”. Cost usually means colleagues who provided necessary functions that were essential. Resourceful people initially find solutions for the gaps, at some cost to their own performance and well-being. And all continues to more-or-less function.

Seeing that it “all still works”, more cost is removed and it starts to creak. The indifference and disconnectedness of the theorists at the top adds to the feelings of oppression and exploitation and instead of joints and muscles being degraded by toil, a different cost is exacted.

Cortisol and adrenalin, once intended as a quick boost to enable leopards to be escaped from or rivals to be vanquished, is now ever present in systems designed to endure them for a few minutes. Blood pressures rise and cellular and systemic damage begins to occur. Arterial walls become less elastic, heart muscles degrade and brain tissues are subtly changed by the presence of hormones and neurotransmitters which keep the body in a permanent state of danger-arousal, the fear now not being starvation, but still, removal of the means of livelihood: No less profound in its way.

People are no longer worn down by weight and repetition of physical efforts, but more subtle though equally serious organic damage begins to occur.

On arriving home, the residue of the day haunts and echoes in the inside of heads. Sleep or even relaxation is inconceivable in a bodily system primed for conflict or exertion but for which no outlet is available. Wine becomes the only viable remedy. So, another night, another bottle, we head up the stairs to mildly alcoholic oblivion until the alarm clock demands we face another day of inconsequential and abstract but still arduous tasks.