Friday, 30 December 2011

Overcoming the Inertia

I am sitting in a wood writing in my van. The rain is falling on the metal roof and it is a comforting, friendly sound. I have heard it many times as I drifted off to sleep somewhere near the sea as I stayed that extra night hoping for an improvement in the weather when I awoke next day. It is warm enough as I have a very nice Eberspacher diesel heater, originally installed for the comfort of the chaps of the railway crew who previously inhabited the van in its previous incarnation. I have a cup of tea here, since I have all my home comforts around me as I sit at my portable desk.

The wood is called "Midger Wood" and is just off the the A46 between Stroud and Bath. It is one of a number of small wooded valleys that lead down from the scarp. There is Ozleworth, Tresham, and I suppose further along, Dyrham and Lansdown.
This is my favourite however as I used to cycle here from my tiny village about 7 miles away, to get the best catapult sticks when I was a boy.

It is owned now by a wildlife trust and is less impenetrable than it was during the derelict periods of the 70s and 80s when it was a largely uncared-for wilderness. Now there are paths and coppices but cleverly, the wild feeling has been retained. There are owl and bat boxes and little nests provided for dormice. But there are also secret places to be found down by the little stream where the water is so saturated with lime that it coats a twig or a snail shell in a stone crust in just a year ir so.
Interestingly, given the oolitic limestone nature of the geology hereabouts, I once stumbled across a piece of knapped flint in a drainage channel from a field above the forest. You don't find flint for quite a distance from here and so it must have been brought here by someone, probably long ago. That was a bit spooky, to hold a tool from an inhabitant from thousands of years ago when bears and wolves roamed these forests.
This another of my favourite semi-desolate places where I like to go to give myself space to think. Here there is no wifi, not even any phone reception. I am uncontactable and nobody knows where I am.

So, why am I here? Well....
An hour or so ago, I was at home, suddenly at a loose end and wondering what to do. Given my slightly ADHD tendencies, I find it hard to write when there is distraction since every noise, movement or passer-by-the-window tends to send me off down a small voyage of curiosity. It scatters the attention and I lose my train of thought.

But here, with the bare trees leading off down the valley, the rain now beating on the roof of the van and a small river developing in the road which falls steeply away to the large millpond at the bottom of the hill, I have peace.

Don't get me wrong: I enjoy distraction, I find it fertile. It provides a constant stream of stimulus upon which a brain may feed. Without it, the internal conversations grind to a halt to be replaced by prosaic dialogue about what to have for tea and how the garage really does need a tidy-up.

But when one needs to tease out an idea that has been forming for a while, distraction is not helpful. And so, here I am in the wilds of Gloucestershire, in the back of a transit van in the rain.

And the thought I need to articulate is brought to mind by the turn of the year. Oh, a tedious New Years Resolution ramble, I possibly hear you think. But it is slightly at a tangent to that. My thought is about Inertia.

We are all familiar with inertia in the physical sense. It makes us lean when we go around corners too fast or head over the handlebars on our bucycle when it collides with a solid object of sufficient mass.
But the inertia I describe is far less tangible. It is that force that allows us to watch life glide past as a spectator rather than as a participant. I note that in this inter-year week, such as the time between Christmas and New Year tends to become, the days have passed without regard. I could not tell you really what has transpired nor my attiitude to life and the passage of time was during that period. I was variously drunk, absorbed in a book, stuffing myself with turkey orjust staring slack-jawed at the television.
And so life goes, year by year. And each year I say to myself "This year, Pete, I must do more STUFF! I must get out more, meet more people, take part in more activities"
Indeed, at that moment when the clock chimes twelve on the 31st December, it all seems so clear! All I have to do is to get out more!

Yes, I think to myself: Its very straightforward. You just decide you want to do something, you perhaps research what is required and then, you do it.
So, why don't I? Here I am am, like so many people, with perfectly working limbs and faculties, articulate, "fun loving" and mostly open to new experiences. And somehow, I sit and think about doing stuff and just don't.
I have my splendid van, with its seats, its heater, its beds. I have bicycles, kayaks, surf-boards, musical instruments. And I could do so much!
"When the weather warms up, " I tell myself "I shall organise a grand picnic one sunny day in a park. I shall take a wicker hamper, a primus and a proper teapot and everyone shall wear hats and their finest Summer clothes!" How alluring the idea seems in thise dark winter months. Summer opens the world to us for our pleasure and indulgence. All we have to do is rake advantage of that freedom.

Every year for a decade I have thought thus, and every year, somehow I have failed to make it materialise. It can't be that difficult can it? Well, ok, there is the weather. It has not really been generally suitable for picnics, but some days wiuld have been perfect even so. So what stops me organising it?
Well, perhaps fear of rejection. There needs to be people. "The people make the party" it is said and this is undoubtedly true.
But given the haphazard nature of British weather, one would have to organise such a gathering on the spur of the moment and few people have the flexibility to do that. There would probably be a lot of people who are busy and would decline. But I could ask! If even two other people come along, it is a realisation of the idea.

No, something else is at work here. It's "inertia". We sit on our sofas or at our computers and information comes to us. It is not necessarily entertaining information, but it is sufficient for us to remain there awaiting more. A type of overriding gravity holds us in place and the thought of changing from this relatively comfortable state to something else - anything else - just seems unappealing, regardless of how much fun the alternative might be. Its just too much effort to physically or even metaphorically get off our arses and make it happen. A paralysis of the will overtakes us and we stay where we are. We sit, vegetating, prevaricating, doing what we have always done. And the great opportunities of life happen elsehwere, to other people or not at all.

This has to stop! A change must take place! No longer can time be wasted in the frittering away of moments awaiting the next email or status update. Picnics in sunny parks must happen. Dances must be attended and conversations over coffee must take place. Trips to wild sea or long sandy beaches will happen and sunsets watched with friends with a glass of wine or mug of tea await, ours for the taking.

Where an obstacle exists, it must be examined and a solution found. If there are no people, find some (ok, harder to do than to say, but this is the 21st century with all its attendant communications technologies). If no event presents itself, organise one! Phone LOADS of people. Surely everyone can't be busy or indifferent! Playfellows must exist somewhere!
Ok, family ties and commitments must be taken into account and I remember those from when the kids were small. But fun was still to be found within such constraints, rendering them less of a constraint and more something that adds flavour by sharing the experience.

But if what prevents action and fun is merely the difficulty of rousing ourselves to action from our fur-lined rut of discomfortless apathy, then this must be recognised and energy injected.
I have had this realisation several times before, but the quietness in my mid towards the end of this year has been so resounding and eventually full of despair, that this time, I have made this public statement that it will be tackled and persevered with. I ask sincerely for anyone reading this to suggest how the mind-numbing, resolve-paralysing force of inertial immobility can be overcome. Some strategy must exist for those times when we know delight is within our grasp but somehow we are too leaden to stir ourselves to reach for it. If you know how to do this, please help!

If colour and vitality is not to be drained from us to be replaced by drabnesss, lethargy and mediocrity, the nettle must be grasped and life seized by the ears and ridden like a wild horse. Texture, sensation, vibrancy can be our, if only we can overcome the lethargy.

So no more intertia! Let us as Zorba says "Suck the very marrow from life!"
See you in the Park in June. Wear a hat!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Some Boxing Day Wilderness

Every Boxing Day for the last few years, we have walked off our turkey and mince pies by a walk up and along the lofty peninsula of Brean Down near Weston Super Mare (though somehow, in nature, not near Weston super Mare). I will not describe its features as the wikipedia page covers it perfectly in physical depiction as does this picture which I hope the photographer won't mind me linking to, but which shows it so beautifully that I just had to refer to it.

Brean Down is essentially a Mendip Hill which is in the Bristol Channel, along with the islands of Steepholm and Flatholm.

I remember Brean Down from my childhood when I played on the beach down below. It is a long flat beach and my memories of it are of the vehicles which were left rusting after being overtaken by the sea to the chagrin of the foolish people who drove them down there, doubtless enticed by the prospect of driving fast over a huge uninterrupted expanse of sand. Personally, I think this is madness from many perspective, not least mechanical, knowing what sand does to's a steep climb up a flight of steps to the top of the down. When one is weighed down by a voluminous belly from several days of excess, it seems a never-ending toil to get to the top of the steps.

Once you get to the top, hacking and coughing your congested guts up, you are confronted by a view along the length of the first hump of the Down. There are several of these that you walk up and down along if you walk down the southern side. Its a walk along a spine of rock, a long drop down one side and shallower drop on the northern side with a view of Weston and up the Severn. Weston looks particularly ugly and incongruous given the ruggedness and beauty of the hill upon which one stands. But the view along the peninsula, with the Somerset Levels behind me, always fills me with a sense of adventure and wildness.
With the ageless moaning of the wind in the stubby hawthorns, I am the paleolithic hunter leaning on my spear and wondering at the gods that lived beneath the waves or I am the Victorian artilleryman heading back to the barracks wondering if the invasion will come and if I would be the first to spot it and raise the alarm.

There are the remains, in the form of long interconnected mounds, of the neolithic field system, though looking at the shape of the wind-stunted trees, it is hard to imagine any soil remaining there for very long, hence the walls I suppose.
There is also at the highest point (I have not really been able to see it but i think the rectangular depression in the picture might be it), the remains of a temple to Apollo build by the Romano British in the 4th century. This was purportedly built upon and older temple stretching back into prehistory. Given the eeriness of the place, high up on a long line of rock with water swirling grey and forbidding either side, you can see how ancient peoples might have attributed a specialness to the place and of course to many human minds, geographical specialness often equates to supernatural attributions.As you get along towards the end, the path gets very rugged and the steepness of the cliff accounts for a number of dogs every year who, chasing the goats or whatever else catches their hunting instinct, run over the edge to presumably pause motionless for the second or so before they realise they are above empty space, at which point the knocking of legs against air stops, accompanied by a surprised expression as gravity resumes its ten metres per second squared pull towards the sea.

At the end of the promontory is the fort. Walking down the steep hill towards the fort, you get a sense of how bleak it must have been to be stationed here in the 1860s when Lord Palmerston decreed it be built as part of a line of defences against invasion.
The fort is still in reasonable shape, though mostly without roofs and with the huge artillery guns now gone. Part of it was blown up when a certain Gunner Hains shot his rifle into the the powder magazine on July 3rd 1900. Nobody knows why. But perhaps the bleakness just got to him. I can understand that, though not the spectacular response.

There are rails which head down to the sea where boffins attempted to develop a ship-launched bouncing bomb in WW2. The bomb rolled off the end, stopped and exploded, terminating the rail raggedly and the programme promptly.The most atmospheric place feels to me to be the gun emplacement facing south west at the top of the hill. Derelict but sturdily made from concrete, they stand starkly against the skyline, hinting at the number of eyes that must have scanned the horizon over the years from their fortified windows. Even now there is a lovely view of Steepholm.
I stand in the middle of its graffiti-covered walls and attempt to imagine the soldiers pacing around on long winter wartime nights as the huge searchlights played out across the Bristol Channel looking for invading ships. It is not difficult to hear the tread of their boots or the grumbles at the inclement weather in between puffs on cigarettes.
On the North side, the going is easy. There is a rough road which traces its way along the hill for a mile and a half. It passes the house of Captain Cox from the 1800's, modified as a command post in WW2 and the gun emplacements from which bren or Bofors gunners would have rained down fire upon any invading tourists attempting to storm Weston beach in the hope of the last of the raisin muffins from the Edwardian tearooms.
It is a relatively easy walk round the back of the headland and back to the car park. Usually, here, we arrive windswept and cold and sit in the van cooking up the remnants of the Christmas dinner as we stare out to "sea". Its not really sea, I think, though there is seaweed, the fragrance of which is almost convincing. It is difficult not look wistfully out at the water as you eat your reheated turkey, stuffing and sprouts in rich gravy. Or the cheddar truckle and home made bread as we had this year.
Then, sated, as the light fades, we drive home through the twilight along the sandy road towards Berrow, listening to (as is my wont) Kate Bush "Hounds of love".
And that is Boxing day, atmospheric and invigorating!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Party Season

Every year at this time, the Sunday Supplements are full of such articles as "get in shape for the Party Season!", "Fashion must-haves for the Party Season!" and "Hangover cures for the Party Season morning-after!"
And initially I think "Yes! Of course! It's Christmas! There will be festivities! How exciting!"
And I look around and... where are these parties that comprise this "Party Season"?

Now it could be just that I am not terribly sociable or popular, but I shan't be attending any parties this Christmas. Indeed, I am not aware of any taking place. And every Christmas, this seems to be so. This vague cloud of indistinct festivities looms up at us from about October onwards with a promise of happy throngs of revellers enjoying each others' company with abandon in some social whirl of celebratory engagements.
And suddenly, I look up and its a few days before Christmas and, well, no invitations have been forthcoming, in fact, I haven't heard from anyone for ages!

Is it me? Do I smell? Am I just persona-non-grata in civilised society? Or do people just stay in and watch telly nowadays?

Ok, in an ideal world, it would be deeply exciting to be invited to, and attend parties where flamboyantly-dressed characters converse with much laughter in darkened halls where bands of musicians play evocative tunes and acrobats cavort in harlequin suits above. I would dance all night and hold quickfire bantering conversations with a man in a purple silk top hat and a lady in a burgundy velvet ball gown. And we would toast "To life and living it!" and jostle and laugh,
But a quick drink down the pub after work would be good too. Only.. everyone works from home now (as I do mostly) and face-to-face interaction seems a thing of the past.

I suppose I could hold a party. But I start to draw up the list and realise that, the kids are grown up and the link they provided to the friends of the last twenty years (i.e. those with whom we shared children of the same age) is broken now. The list of potential attendees is somehow strangely short and everyone we ever knew has buggered off somewhere. A few tentative phone calls and discouragement is complete. Despite there being no parties elsewhere, those few people I know are all somehow otherwise engaged.

So, let's hear it for the party season! We can pour ourselves a drink, put on our party hats and sit down to watch Christmas Escape to the Country as we toast to "Absent Friends!"

Sunday, 11 December 2011

A few Observations from my trip

Well, after my long avoided lightning trip to America, I have merely a few photos and some t-shirts bought from the outlet mall on I25 to show for it. It is 12 years since I last went to America and I confess this trip was easier than I had remembered. Passing through Denver airport instead of Washington or Chicago is much more civilised as it feels a lot less metropolitan and serious.

All that Americana was quite overwhelming since I think we are deceived by the seeming similarity of language into thinking the cultures are similar. In some ways perhaps they are, inasmuch as wherever you go, people are people.
And of course there is a cultural colonisation happening the world over through appealing American brands and retail meccas resembling the strip malls one sees on the outskirts of towns in the US.
Much fuss seems to be made about this here, but I suppose if this is what people want then there seems no reason they shouldn't have it.

But the unselfconsciousness of people is rather endearing. Upon hearing my obviously English accent, many Coloradians would stop and ask with genuine interest "Where are you from?"
"England" I would reply. And their curiosity would result in a cheerful and pleasant conversation ending in a heartfelt "Well, welcome to America and I hope you enjoy your stay!"
I find such generosity of spirit very endearing. You don't often find it here in England where we tend, on the whole to be polite but a little grumpy (Think "How are you today?" "Ohh.. mustn't grumble I s'pose..").
And I do so love American street names. Look at this: "Lady Moon". That same unselfconsciousness is apparent here and how lovely to call a street thus. Admittedly, the grid patterns of the other streets and the logical convention of numbering streets instead of naming them is a little less imaginative, but nevertheless, it has a systematic purpose behind it which makes sense. But a street called "Harmony" must surely e more interestingly named than "High Street" and "College" tells you, as does our most common street name "Station Road" precisely what to expect there. My hotel was on "Horsetooth" which apparently reflects the shape of the hill which runs parallel to it. That frankly tickles me.Sometimes however, one encounters the surreal in the enthusiastic... This struck me as a little "South Park"

Alas, the work that piled up in my absence, despite the tools given to me to make me constantly contactable anywhere in the world, is quite insistent. Hence I do not have time to elaborate fully on my observations from last week. I have another busy week this week with a trip to Stuttgart, stormy weather permitting, so I will probably forget most of them anyway. But for now, here is a photo from my hotel at twilight. You can see the mountains in the distance, perhaps 50 miles away. They are so huge and yet at this distance merely hint at that indescribably but evocative feeling of adventure one feels whilst looking at distant hills at dusk.

So, for now, I leave the memories of a five thousand mile journey across the world by aeroplane, for a twelve mile journey to the office by bicycle.
Life is full of contrasts.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

How did I get here?

It's a bit odd really, where you find yourself sometimes. I am on a plane flying across the Atlantic. I have eaten a rather passable dinner and have watched "Cowboys and Aliens" which was a ripping good bunch-of-nonsense yarn, perfect for a long flight. Now I am settling down to appraise my situation objectively. Suddenly life seems very confusing.

Growing up in a tiny village in Gloucestershire, I was just "Our Pete": a proper scruffy urchin with a mop of unruly hair, the fringe of which covered my eyes and hid my default expression of cynical scepticism. I sneaked through woods, cutting sticks for bows and arrows, I pinched eggs from the hens in the old railway carriage henhouse a mile or so outside the village. Smelling faintly of wild garlic or cow parsley, I made dens in hedges and was generally a bit of a ragamuffin. It was a good life for a child but the horizon of my life was pretty much the extent to which I could walk from home, or where other villages' territories extended with their own ruffian kids who were generally not well disposed to interlopers.
Occasionally we would go to Bristol to visit the dentist or I would go to work with my dad on his milk tanker which took us all around the farms of North Somerset. I thought that was what life consisted of. School and our locality. Anything beyond was literally Terra Incognito and I only had the vaguest sense of what might exist beyond my everyday experience.

Well, I grew up, as one does, largely retaining the accent most beloved of those who play turnip-headed goggling yokels on telly and I got an education of sorts. It was not a terribly distinguished academic career, interfering as it did with the generally fascinating experience of being sentient. But amazingly I scraped sufficient qualifications to become employable (just) and somehow, yet again, I "got away with it".

Strange then that somehow I should be writing this at 37000 feet (as I began) over Greenland in a Boeing 777, seven hours in to my flight to Colorado. At home, my (missed!) dance class will just be starting on the intermediate section and it will be dark and cold.
Up here, we have experieced permanent daylight for an unfeasably long period as we have followed the day westward. Catapulted thousands of miles, in a few hours by almost inconceivable forces, it is light at nine o'clock home time. Implausibly, I am eating a double Gloucester sandwich (oh how far away Gloucester feels now!) several miles up over the North American Continent.

My juvenile self could not for a moment have contemplated himself up in an aeroplane. He might perhaps occasionally have glimpsed one high up on a summer's eve leaving golden jet trails in the sunset as it travelled towards places beyond his young imagination. But to fly? To Colorado?
Colorado was one of those places I saw in those glorious photos in National Geographic magazines. My grandfather used to bring them home from the childrens home where he was a gardener. They hinted at a world of exotic and enormous vistas, so different from the fields I was used to. They gave me strange feelings of atmospheres of places, how it might feel to be in them or smell them, or tread their rocky trails. To this day. when I hear the name "Colorado", I smell the smoke from a cowboy's campfire and see red sandstone buttresses and high snow capped mountains.

But I never thought I would actually go there. Why would I? I am "our Pete from Walkmill Lane" Who lived in isolated little Kingswood and was inseparable from his old parkha and wellies as he grubbed for fossils in the hills of Gloucestershire.

Looking down at Ice floes as we fly towards the northern coast of Canada, it seems odd to me that I should be here. My presence is required to discuss really, fairly mundane issues of technology with some engineers from a customer. I really cannot quite believe it necessitates this journey above the clouds to places I only saw on telly as a kid (and which were therefore in a way, no less mythical than Narnia or Middle Earth). Down there are people who speak like they do on films!
Outside the windows of the plane, the crystals of ice that form the clouds of those very exhaust trails whizz past the window, blurring my attempted photographs and possibly showing as long white lines in the sky for some (very cold) small boy to look up at and wonder.

It seems there is knowledge I possess that requires me to attend this meeting. But somehow, I can't quite believe it and it feels as if I might turn up to greet a roomful of people in Denver who will look up in puzzlement and say "What are you doing here?!"
And I will be rumbled.

They could, with seeming justification say "Didn't you used to be that kid who used to kick horse poo at the girl guides on their walks and shoot conkers at the cows' backsides with your catapult to see them raise their legs in the air? Why are you in our meeting?"
And I would say "Oh yes. So I am. I don't know what got into me. I will get my coat and go home. I don't know what I was thinking!"

Somehow, however, I will seem respectable and plausable. I will stand up in front of my customers and make pronouncements about this and that, and they will nod sagely in response with looks of considered concentration on their faces.
And me, I will be, in my mind, observing from a point ten feet to my right, looking at myself in disbelief, wondering if the words are coming at the bidding of some corporate demon who for that moment, is in possession of my vocal cords.
Will anyone guess, I wonder, what a fraud stands before them? Jargon and sincere opinion will spout forth from I know not where and these learned fellows with years of experience in engineering and technology will have no inkling of how implausible I feel. Surely, on my exit from the meeting, my boss will be there frowning, hand outstretched saying "Your pretense is uncovered! I have seen through your feeble disguise as a responsible employee! We demand all the money back!"

Well, perhaps somehow the knowledge has seeped into me unnoticed over the years. Maybe the conversations I have observed and the presentations I have sat through have actually sunk in and I do know my stuff. Could it be that all that I say will actually be correct and informative?
No, it can't be. I am "Our Pete" from Kingswood. All I know about is the best way to get to Hillesley Road from the Ash Path at Nind via Farmer Newman's fields. I can't possibly know what I am talking about.

And yet, somehow, I am here, sat on BA219 London Heathrow to Denver. I am looking down now at Lake Superior, en route to a meeting with customers, having left my Big-Grown-Up-House, my grown-up children and my wife back home in far-away England.
Sometimes, don't you just look at it all and hear the words of the song in your head?:
"And you may ask yourself 'How did I get here?'"

Monday, 5 December 2011

Dance yourself Happy!

It is my firm assertion that dance was the beginning of religion. Ok, I have no evidence at all to back that up, but it seems plausable to me. There you all are, a pliocene tribe somewhere in north east Europe 12,000 years ago or so and pickings have been a bit thin on the ground. Its the middle of winter and everyone knows the Sun has wandered off, as it does every year, and soon, it will reach the farthest point of its journey and head back again, heralding the gradual return of lighter evenings and warmer, more beneficent times.

But for now, its blinkin cold and the Head Man is a bit concerned that all the dried caribou might soon be gone. So, he thinks to himself "Crikey!" (in whatever proto-indo-european dialect they spoke in those parts) "This lot aren't going to make it to Spring in this state! They will all give up and die at this rate! What can I do....?"

So, he calls all his people together for a great pronouncement.
"Tomorrow" he says with all the authority one can muster when being eaten alive by fleas, "Since the ground is too hard for tubers and the birds have eaten all the berries, the god who lives behind yonder hill has told me I must lead you in a Great Hunt and that meat will be plentiful. But before that, to give praise, we shall have a great feast in His name and eat up all that remains of His provision. Gather wood. We shall have a great fire. Pull on your finest moleskin shoes and tonight, we make merry!" And doing whatever passed for crossing his fingers, he heads off into his tent to put on his ceremonial poncho, best antlered head-dress and facepaint.

And so, a big pile of wood would be gathered, it would get dark quite early and then a big feast would ensue. At some point, after all the half-rancid venison was consumed, some men would appear with hollow logs and big sticks, and a stirring rhythm would begin. Before you know it, everyone with two remaining working legs would be stomping around the huge fire in raptures of stone-age euphoria where the world would start to spin (possibly on account of the spores from the fungus in what was left of the food) and they felt very happy and well disposed towards each other, possibly as if some divine hand had touched them from the spirit world. That's serotonin for you.
And so Head Man would look on approvingly and pray to whatever gods he believed in that there would be more meat to replace the huge feed that everyone had just consumed.
And everyone would feel very mellow and slapping each other jovially on the back, would proclaim that the Head Man was indeed a splendid and wise fellow who knew jolly well how to organise a knees up on a Midwinter's eve.
Two days later, hopefully, the men would return with some kind of large dead ungulate and everyone would feel happy for a bit.

Ok, as proto-dinner-dances go, probably it didn't happen quite like that. But you can see the point: Dancing can send you into an altered state where you feel very close to those around you and your spirits are uplifted. And hence, it endures and we still love it.

Perhaps some may claim "Oh, but I have two left feet! I am no dancer!" but apart from making one describe a large circle of perambulation in a featureless desert, this need not be an impediment. It would appear that everyone to some extent enjoys a little jig to the right music and is the happier for it.

I remember as a student, there would often be a disco. Being largely impecunious, I would generally buy one pint of Newcastle Brown and make it last all night. And yet, I could hop on to the dance floor with my friends and dance for endless hours in a state of euphoria approaching bliss, with no training at all on how to move my limbs and body apart from having seen Pans People (A 70s dance troupe) on Telly (yes, UK readers, I AM that old!)

It appears that a form of intoxication can take place whilst dancing. I am certain this cannot just happen to me. With suitable music, I could be off my head within ten minutes of psuedo-random rhythic contortions. Neurotransmitters must surely be implicated.

Now, I have had lessons for many years so my inherent clumsiness has to some extent been eroded. But performing a spirited jive with a responsive lady to "Shake your tail feather" or a slow bluesy smooch to Diana Krall's "Temptation" can take me to the same place, only more reliably so and with less bruising to myself and bystanders.
To dance with a partner is one of the most civilised ways I know to pass an evening and I do it quite regularly. It leaves me feeling so elated

Now, I have an issue with Chubby Checker, and I should elaborate: It is to do with his "Twist". It was the first mainstream dance that was advocated to be performed solo - alone. Without a partner. I believe this started a trend which has brought about a great loss.
To hold a lady in one's arms lead her around the floor in a dance is a lovely thing. Ok, it requires in general, a little training, but frankly, not that much in order for the performance to be competent.

To dance with a lady who responds so perfectly to one's lead, even to the extent of following your thought of a move, is akin to driving a fast and responsive sports car. It is quite a delight.

But dancing with a partner is a strange semi-intimate thing. One can dance with a complete stranger, press against their bodies, feel breasts against one's chest through the thin fabric of clothing, stare meaningfully into each others' eyes, and share a proximity usually only shared with romantic partners.
And yet, it's somehow not intimate. It is merely playing a part. To dance a tango, cheek to cheek, having a shapely thigh pressing against your own, or even raised and resting on your hip, would normally be either incredibly erotic or unbelievably embarrassing. And yet, in dance, it is neither of those. It is merely acting; doing what the music suggests in order to express the emotions it engenders.

At the end of the song you take the lady's hand, you smile, perhaps perform a small bow, and go your separate ways. But you shared three or four minutes when you had human contact and your existence in the world was confirmed rather than it being a debatable point of perception on your part.

Of course, I am sure that romances do spring from dance, and perhaps that is why it endures as a form of interaction. We are apparently very well able to judge reproductive fitness from a partners ability to dance. But in most cases, it is merely sociable, polite. And everyone understands that and can feel, if they wish, safe within the bounds of convention.

Every year, between Christmas and new year, I watch "Singing in the Rain". It is one of my favourite films and the dancing is superlative. In the scene with Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse, the intensity of interaction is breathtaking.

But one need not aspire to such heights of perfection in order to engage in the absolute delights of dance. So, if it so pleases, and you have always fancied it, I urge you to seek out a class and take Fair Terpsichore's hand.