Monday, 27 May 2013

Panglossian Monday

I awoke with a start this morning at seven thirty before suddenly realising it was a Bank Holiday: The best of all possible Mondays. Well, it could be a little sunnier perhaps, but yesterday was glorious and the luminous pallor of my thighs and torso is now tinted to a respectable beige.
I was reading my book for a while, as a kind of sanctuary from all the thoughts of jobs around the house that I probably should do today, when suddenly a whole roman candle of thoughts burst in upon my head and I was forced to rush downstairs to fire up this conveniently always-on Macbook (not mine, I hasten to add: Bought for a project for work and occasionally intensively used for such) and commit the thoughts to words. It interests me that mental functionality manifests at different times: I get my ideas profusely before breakfast, but at that point the words have not yet been roused from their nocturnal slumber. But the gist can be at least be recorded for later exploration.

What to do with these thoughts though. Sometimes they are so insistent that they simply cannot remain trapped in one's head to merely dissipate and be lost. Their implications are sometimes just too important.
And yet, I find the act of writing to be mildly shameful. It is as if it is an indulgence that has to be hidden away, like a secret hob-nob addiction or a penchant for wearing ladies' dresses (neither of which examples are drawn from my own personal list of peccadilloes: hob-nobs I can take or leave and few dresses would fit a frame of these proportions).
But it occurs to me that I feel embarrassed by my need to write and hence I don't do it. Some invisible sense of disapproval seems to cause my faculties to shrivel up and I wander off to do something more worthy of the time.

In fact, this mild form of shame is so influential that it seems to stop me in my tracks and words and ideas remain unexpressed. Which feels like a waste.

This is all very self-indulgent and nobody need read it. But I am going to post it here anyway as a kind of challenge to myself to see if I can take a small step towards dispelling this pervasive obstacle to expression.

As an aside, I have decided I am going to write a book; a book about how to make home-made wine (which anyone who has ever tasted my own fair creations would attest I know an awful lot about). If I write my intention here, perhaps I will find it harder to back out of the commitment to myself. It won't just be about recipe. You can get that nonsense anywhere. No, it will be about the philosophy of making things for oneself and the existential satisfaction it brings for its own sake.

There. I said it now.
Some much lauded Elderflower wine I made.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Continuing Progression of Rewiring

I have said I wouldn't mention it again, haven't I? But an interesting development occurred and I wanted to share it because several people have asked me to and well, I suddenly, for reasons that will hopefully become apparent, have the urge, nay, the compulsion to.

The last few weeks, I have had a kind of relapse of sorts. I had to work on an issue that required a huge amount of intellectual effort for a day or so. Whilst I have regained most of my mental faculties, a few incredibly subtle after effects remain. OR remained? I really can't say and I have become weary of the kind of self-analysis that this kind of checking-for-resumption-of-"normality" entails. Constantly examining every mental process for some kind of comparison with "how it was before" requires first of all an inventory of the mental workshop that one felt existed initially. And then, a regard of the inputs versus outputs to see if they process differs from what one subjectively remembers. It is a tiring and tiresome exercise at the best of times and I am sure many of us do it, especially those of us who are not exactly in the first flush of youth.

Anyway, I was asked by a friend if I would document my subjective experience of the last year. It was a sincere request based upon curiosity of the experience of consciousness we all suspect we share, without being able to be sure about it.
I shall not document it here, but the magnum Opus of the Time of Abject Confusion will be composed elsewhere (and will probably make no sense to anyone, least of all me). Some less fortunate souls I have encountered who also suffered wish to compare notes too and in my own casting about for significance and progress markers, it would have been helpful to have had someone else's experiences to refer to, even thought the condition varies depending on the location, direction and force of the bleed.

The last couple of weeks, since my heavy-intellect day, I have been unhealthily tired. We all know what it feels like to be tired. And I sometimes get the ordinary kind too, as does everyone. But the "Brain Tired" is different. It is like someone hanging weights on the skin of my brain and impeding its agility with this heavy load. It says vociferously "You must sleep now. It is necessary." in the kind imperative directive that is unambiguous and impossible to disobey. Only, it is not always convenient, obviously. You can't just lie down and sleep in the office no matter how understanding management and colleagues might appear to be.
So, several days, I have come back from the office or been working from home and closed my eyes, only to waken two and half hours later. This happened for about ten days, perhaps every other day. In between I did non-demanding tasks like built my lay oven in the garden. And I didn't always need to sleep after.
And it was wretched! I wanted to dance. I was too tired. Acquaintances wanted to engage me in conversation, fatigue lent lead to my lips and weighted my tongue with an invisible tiny anvil. I spent ten minutes one evening trying to remember and then describe and eventually mime the word "envelope".
And then, in Thursday evening, I slept for eleven hours. Eleven hours! Nobody sleeps that long! I haven't slept for that length of time since I left hospital!

And lo! Something has changed! For weeks, I have had no inclination to write. Opportunities for mirthful comments in conversation passed me by as my agility foundered and I had to run along to catch up. Suddenly! There it was back again!

In the shower a few minutes ago, Something happened that hasn't happened for a long long time: A huge and complex analogy arrived in my head, fait-accompli, to  describe quite neatly a pertinent stage in this last year's journey. Lock-stock-and-barrel did it emerge, compelling me with a familiar but lately-missed mania to record it lest it should escape. I ran to the bedroom and hastily dressed such that I could write it down before it evaporated from my leaky cranium.
And I have written something down. I wrote this: This total mass of twaddle and self-indulgent teasing-out of the mess of concepts, thoughts and experiences that gushed into my brain as the Lynx Studly-Masculine shower gel was rinsed from my sparse barnet. Oh, I have so missed these thoughts and their tendency to connect to each other all of their own accord.

Anyway, the idea is this (well, there was more actually but I have written than in a kind of shorthand elsewhere so I don't forget it):
The tiredness happens after a mental challenge that pushes the boundaries. It makes me feel wretched and sleep a huge amount. Then, suddenly, one of the missing (but increasingly subtle and hard to describe) faculties reappears. That's how brains (re)build! The sleep and the tiredness must be the "under construction!" signs.

Isn't that wonderful? Progress keeps happening because brains are very very plastic and can rewire themselves!
And that, I think, is the lesson I shall (again) take from all this: Using your brain makes it better. The more you use it, the better it gets at whatever it is you are using it for. Simple really, isn't it? But such a powerful principle.
So, what to do with it next?

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

A Tale of disaster and Eventual Triumph

This is cross posted also to my other, more craft-focussed blog. But just a taster of what I got up to at the weekend.

So, on Sunday, a group of friends, rallying to my call for help and offers of beer, turned up and embarked upon the construction of the new clay oven. It needed rebuilding because the old one was too small, didn’t have a brick base and needed a chimney. So, the materials gathered, off we went. The base was nice new bricks, held in place by battens screwed to the slabs with stainless steel screws. It was nice and flat and this looks like it will perform admirably to hold the heat and bake spectacular crispy pizzas.
The sand former was constructed and we did have (as it turned out, justified) concerns about the dampness of the sand. But we ploughed on.Image
stompWe stomped and twisted the clay into sand, perlite and later, straw and we built ourselves a neat little dome as the sun shone down.
Unfortunately, we had very wet sand for the former and it caused it to become almost liquid and start to “flow”. As we built up the walls with out clay bricks, the walls started to belly out. But at this point, we thought we might get away with. Perhaps if we dried it with a little fire, we might consolidate the structure and achieve a nice firm dome…
ImageWe didn’t. Ignominiously, as we watched, the top caved in. So, we opened some beers, sat down and raised our glasses to magnificent failure.Image
So, yesterday, with only Mrs E and I, we rebuilt the whole thing with a much improved shape. An arch or dome needs to have a certain curve to support itself. The previous one was too shallow and too much top rested on too little wall. This new one was based on the pointy end of an egg. We figured this was a better shape for structural integrity. Image
The previous oven has a layer of sand and clay, a layer of clay and perlite, with a straw-and-clay layer over the top, I could get the straw layer off, but the inner two layers ended up being mixed together for the walls of the new one.
Well, I can happily say that the new one, now empty of sand, is still upright and drying out nicely.Image There are cracks but they are small and surface and don’t seem to be getting any worse as the drying continues. I will leave it a few days before a gentle firing. Then after that, I will fill it with charcoal and get it fiercely furnace-hot to finally bake it hard.Image
I will let you know how I get on.Image