Friday, 27 July 2012

Summer Evening Scribbles

I am sitting at the top patio of my garden in the dark. I know this picture is of the garden in the daylight, but the one I took of it in darkness was rather lacking in visual information. "Top Patio" makes it sound grand: The garden is really only 45 feet square. Originally on a thirty degree angle, Mrs E designed it cleverly such that it is now on five levels. I am at the penultimate level, shaded from the freshening wind by the  black bamboo on one side and hawthorn and hornbeam hedge on the other. The sultry heat which we had for a few rare and precious days has departed and though I enjoyed the novelty, this is far more comfortable.
It is quite dark now and I have a fairly rubbish wind-up lantern with which to see the keyboard by. (I can sort-of touch type but the variety of keyboards I use, their haptic differences and the relative placings of special characters necessitate me being able to see the keys)
In the hedge behind me is some insistent and occasionally indignant rustling. I would like to think it is tiny people who live in the base of the hedge and it was accepted in more superstitious times that hedges were impenetrable places which harboured spirits (indeed, I believe the words "hag" and hedge have similar origins). Sometimes when I work from home, I feel as if strange eyes are regarding me with amusement at the folly of my arcane daily transactions. When I look, perhaps I see a movement. Or perhaps it is just a blackbird or wren darting for cover.

Tonight, I was startled by the sound of something scrambling under the fence. Scratching and snuffling, a hedgehog squeezed under and proceeded to nuzzle around myopically for slugs in the leaf litter. So much life goes on around us without our knowing. A toad is waddling under a ledge of marjoram, frogs croak in the pond. And normally, I am indoors oblivious to this other world.

But tonight, I am out here in the dark, with a pint of Bath Ales' finest brown English beer. Actually, I just quaffed the last half inch from my glass and it causes me to muse on something that has been bothering me for a while: Enjoyment. Pleasure. Experience in general perhaps ?
I enjoyed the beer. I enjoyed the pouring of it, the settling of the bubbles into a creamy head, and of course the drinking of it.  I enjoyed the feeling of having three quarters of it remaining as I drank it. And I enjoyed savouring the last mouthful.
And now it is gone. I have the memory of its enjoyment. It's a good memory. I shall, as with many other good memories, revisit it. Beer does leave one with a wonderful sense of having consumed something so very satisfying and it made me ponder for a while upon what precisely I enjoyed about its consumption.
So, this brings me on to what I refer in my head to the "choc ice" question, which popped into my head yesterday as I ate a magnum double choc caramel Mrs E had thoughtfully bought for me:
If I have a choc ice, and you have a choc ice, and I eat mine in half the time you do, who, ten minutes later can deem that they had the most pleasure?
Or if one day I eat it in a minute and another I eat it in three, how can I know which of the two, from the vantage point of now, in the relative future gave me most pleasure? In both cases, I will have had the enjoyment of eating a choc ice. Did it matter if I ate it fast or slowly?

Ok, I suspect the answer is irrelevant anyway, but it gives me pause for thought each time I tear open the packet of a choc ice. How best to enjoy it for posterity. Or now.
In general, it seems most pleasures are best savoured. This gives a longer "now" in which the sensations can be enjoyed, But the subjective memory of a now that lasted three minutes is much the same as one that lasted a minute. Isn't it?

It seems a silly way to waste mental energy I know. But it has implications. So many pleasures are to to be had and how best are we to enjoy them? Long savoured or merely a quickie?

Beats me. Anyway I need another pint. And the insects are biting me so I am going inside. Goodnight everyone!

Friday, 20 July 2012


Hugs come in all shapes and sizes. Unambiguously, an interpersonal statement of empathy and emotional support, the hug seems quite universal. I like hugs. But they do seem to vary in meaning. This is usually accepted without thought, since the meanings tend to be clear to us without having to think much about it, at least on an emotional level. I have mused on this a lot over recent weeks, since musing seems to be a calming passtime that soothes my addled and somewhat scrambled brain. I have come to no firm conclusions except to be hugged is, for me, a rather pleasurable experience. However some hugs are more enjoyable than others and this gives cause for a small meditation. Why do hugs vary in their capacity to provide enjoyment? It's a question that I have been thinking about a lot.

The variability of intention is something that has been made very apparent to me in the past few months. Since I came out of hospital, I have had more hugs offered to me (almost exclusively from ladies) than in the previous years of my life put together. It has been frankly wonderful if I am honest.
So, it would seem there are many variables in the mechanics of a hug, subtle variations of which denote the intention and attitude of the initiator.
The factors varied seem to be :
  •    directness/obliqueness of contact,
  •    proportion and height of contact
  •    duration.
At the more "distant" end, we have the side hug, much favoured by more religious and emotionally repressed types. I have not had any of these. This hug is where an arm is thrown around a person, ostensibly drawing them firmly but safely to the initiator. But the participants remain side-by-side. It appears to be designed to show some level of support or solidarity without the risky business of face-to-face intimacy. I think personally that this is a uncommitted kind of hug unless the giver is truly uncomfortable with interpersonal contact, such as someone with Apsergers or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, for whom even this type of hug might be a significant and touching pushing of personal boundaries for the benefit of the recipient.

Then comes the demure leaning-in, cheek-to-cheek, right shoulder to right shoulder hug, usually short-lived and its end signaled by the (occasionally patronising) pat on the back or left shoulder. All other parts of the body, especially the hips, are held at a careful distance. This one tends to (strangely) be favoured by well-turned-out ladies of an ectomorphic disposition. It may often be accompanied by the insincerely intoned "Oh, you poor thing!" as might be cooed to a lame but smelly elderly dog, or an ailing aspedistra with a phosphorus deficiency. I am not fond of these types of hug and they tend to leave me with a feeling of isolation and discomfort, as if an icy blast of wind has blown across my neck from a briefly-opened door. There is a sense of being perhaps a mildly unsavoury character from whom a safe distance must be maintained. I often wonder at my own personal hygiene after such a hug and slink off somewhere quiet to have a serruptitious sniff of my shirt.

As a hug becomes more intimate, it tends to be more face to face. Of course this is effectively infinitely variable depending on the level of intimacy the initiator intends to show. Full front-to-front contact is usually reserved for people who know you well or who would like to. Obviously there is the issue of what to do with one's head in such situation. Being tall, this tends to be less of a problem for me, but when the initiator is of a similar or equal height, The positioning of the head and face can indicate one's comfort or discomfort with the situation. I favour the keeping upright  of my head and staring straight ahead. But when a degree of affection or sincerity is require I may rest my right cheek on the initiator's head. Of course, there is also that occasional embarrassing situation when heads clash. Depending on the force of impact, this can bring a hug abruptly to a close or even, as once happened to me, cause the breaking of a nose necessitating a trip to hospital for an X-ray.

Along with this reduced obliqueness, comes the other parameter of interest: degree of grind. This is essentially, how much of the body, from shoulders through boobs, to belly, hips and finally thighs, the initiator is prepared to, or would like to press against you. Or how much movement is introduced during the pressing together of parts.
Often, it is just briefly immobile shoulders with a mere hint of boob if things are to remain respectable. But sometimes these are enthusiastically pressed against one's chest (or belly or face depending on relative height difference).
Further suggestion can be made by the enthusiastic application of hips into the equation. Sometimes, a saucy grind is offered whicch can frankly ether repel you or make your day depending on the person modulating their movement. Often, one is left in no doubt as to the intention of the initiator, were propriety not required to be be observed. Usually, when one of these hugs happens, alcohol is involved.

Of course, I use the word "initiator" here to imply the person offering the hug. I tend not to suggest hugs but to have them offered to me. This is probably because I am English and a man and as a demographic, we still are a bit unsure about this rather continential approach to greeting or showing affection.

It can sometimes be that upon being inducted into a hug, the recipient (and I understand this is more common if he is male) can decide to change the terms of engagement, grabbing the kind lady and moving her not only more directly in front, but also forcefully applying pressure to increase the surface area in contact. This is often referred to by ladies of my acquaintance as "creepy". It can even extend to "gropey" (or by the younger generation as "a bit rapey!") when some rascal of a chap decides to take a handful or two that was not offered. This is, in my opinion, taking advantage and not playing by the rules. Fellows doing this should rightfully receive a slap across the chops by the lady whose honour was so impugned, or at least some level of quiet but firm protest like a vigorous and painful pinch of the spare flesh of the chap's "love handles".

Duration: well, it has been discovered by reputable science-types that the optimum length of time for a "social" hug is just over three seconds. Any more and one party usually starts to struggle. This becomes a kind of wrestling. It can be comical to behold unless you are the one trying to escape. Of course romantic hugs can last much longer, extending even into hours. This never happens after the first flush of love however, but only when the oxytocin and vasopresin are in full flush at the beginning of a relationship. Or occasionally when it is very very cold.

So, here we have it: a whole panoply of interpersonal signals from mild or insincere affection through to emotional support to true love, hints of lustful intention and sheer lechery.
But through all of these is the shared expression of humanity and empathy. I think the world would be a better place if there were more hugs of any of the above types and I shall henceforth be initiating more hugs. Oh, I shall be respectable about it as befits a fellow of my age, standing and circumstances, but what better way is there to say "I too am, as you are, human, and need love too. Here is some, offered to you to affirm your position in the world and in my life".
And how much happier we all will be!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Back on the road again...

Perhaps it is the final step on the road to normality. I am sitting in the Westin Grand Hotel in Bogenhausen, Munich, eight floors up suddenly aware that what I thought were clouds on the distant horizon are actually the Alps. How suddenly they jut out of the otherwise flat land! They are some distance away so their stature is evident in the fact they are visible. Somehow their presence suddenly lends a different complexion to my stay. From being a business trip, I have a sudden tinge of "Holiday" feeling intrude momentarily as this exotic location in the distance becomes part of my landscape.
I have a headache. It's the same headache at the back of the head that I was so familiar with during my stay in hospital in March and in the following month or two. It's a strange back-of-the-head headache which was what grew to a pulsing crescendo on the dance floor that fateful night. I am not happy that it reappears, but when I asked the neurosurgeon about it, he waved away my concerns telling me it is "just a migraine". That may well be so, but it's presence still unnerves me.

But I probably deserve this headache. I did after all consume three half-litres of beer last night. About three pints: Not an amount I would normally associate with a hangover. But these are not normal times. Beer allows the confusion. I expect to be mildly confused after beer. It's a pleasant, familiar confusion that males all other recent experiences of confusion seem comfortable and unthreatening. But I wish it didn't give me that particular headache.

I was concerned about how I would cope on this trip. I am still somewhat vague where information is concerned and I get tired between my temples when two conversations are present in my field of hearing. Usually this requires me to go and have a lie down but I have been sufficing with escaping to somewhere quieter and breathing deeply. It works up to a point.

So, I managed the driving, the chaos of Heathrow and Munich airports. Getting to the hotel was easy and my presentation went quite well to a roomful of attentive people. I heard my own faltering voice explaining things and realised that I am not quite "there" yet, but given how I felt even two months ago, i am astonished to be back in circulation.

It's hard to work out what it all means. Oh, I m not one for undue symbolism, but I feel different. I saunter through the airport terminals feeling that I have had an experience that renders the petty tribulations of everyday travel somehow far less significant. It feels like a freedom to accept (or reject) expectations on my own terms. I feel I can just walk up to people with a smile and say "Hello! I am Pete. Who are you? What's that you are doing? Will you be my friend" because a whole new frontier of existence has been reached and in it, I am innocent and ignorant of convention: Many older conventions seem redundant now.
I said it was hard to explain.

But here I am, back in Germany, doing what I always did and this seems both familiar but new. I don't really know what to make of it all. I am sure it will all fall into place at some point.
But for now, my grumbling tum bids me head down for breakfast.