Monday, 20 January 2014

The World is your Lobster!

As I look out at the January landscape, the sky white/grey upon which the contrast of dark twigs and branches is stark with clarity, I am enthused with the potential of the world. I may be sat at my desk amongst grey corporate uniformity but it is warm and dry and I am not breaking my back to earn enough to live a meagre existence. I can see the world out there and feel what it might have to offer. My mind can roam about freely there, even if I am physically stuck at a desk in my office.
When the life I am forced to inhabit gets too dull and lacklustre, I just think about driving off into the world in my van and suddenly everything seems a lot more exciting.
There are beaches to walk along and woods to explore, fires to be lit, clay ovens to build and fire up. There are welders and glue-guns and self-adhesive velcro. There is wood and fabric and metal to make things from.  There are friends old, new and yet to be discovered with which the world can be explored and there is food to share and enjoy, bread to bake and beer to brew, dancing to be done! Spring is coming and vegetable seeds need to be sown. And there are songs to learn for thrashing out on the guitar or banjo round camp fires.
How splendid is modern life here without plague or barbarians or famine! How full the possibilities for fulfillment. There is no time to waste! Ok, there is the tiresome problem of having to earn a living and there is some minimal level of housework to be done. And when children are younger and more in need of supervision, that can be a limitation. But a magnifying glass and  book describing local insects can provide quite the basis for an adventure. Or some sticks and string to make bows and arrows.
I didn't used to like Winter. I seemed to be the time when real life had to close down as we hibernated in front of the telly. Well, last weekend, I decided to ignore the temperatures and head down to Exmoor in my van. I have a wonderful new thing called a  Frontier Stove which is a small portable woodburner on legs that packs up about the size of  a small holdall such as one might take to the gym with your daps in.
My Frontier Stove. Portable heat for cooking and comfort. And You don't end up smelling like a kipper on account of the long chimney
Ok it was about minus five degrees by bedtime. But the fire gave out some lovely heat and with a few layers of warm clothing, it was quite bearable. Fun even. 
Now, I understand that some people would find this a dreadful proposition: Sitting outside in the Great Outdoors in January in sub-zero temperatures WITH NO TELLY! But actually, that was precisely it's allure for me. It was an adventure! Somewhere I had never explored. Somewhere beautiful, where little tracks headed off into woods to who-knows-where! How can a night in by the telly even compare with that?

At other times, I feel drawn to the city. My home town of Bristol, with all its maritime heritage, has been developed with great thought and inventiveness.
The view from Mud Dock Cafe at Bristol waterside where I had the best burger of my entire life amongst a profusion of interesting bicycles
It really is a lovely city to visit now. As with all major cities, there is culture on offer. The city has a buzz underneath its bustle. Stop and perhaps you may hear it. It is the hum of people doing stuff. Some nights I go to a small hall or sometimes a dark, poky cellar bar,and dance tango with a group of like minded people. It gets me out of the house.
Dancing is much better than telly! Even with HD and surround sound. 
 And sometimes I stay at home. But sitting still isn't my thing so I find myself often in the kitchen. Recently, I did a bread making course with the splendid Clive from Shipton Mill. I have to say I learned some astonishing and dismaying things about the bread-making industry (like the way they add gluten to bread to improve its structure because they need it to rise quickly for productivity reasons so they put too much yeast in it which makes the structure all wrong. Dreadful!). Now, I make so much bread that I barely have to put the central heating on, such is the heat from the oven. 
I made all this bread, Making bread is cathartic. I have to say, the Chelsea buns were gorgeous beyond even my powers to describe. The secret is lots of butter and loads of dried fruit: But no candied peel because candied peel is Satan's droppings.

Making beer is existentially satisfying. Drinking it, even more so.
And beer. I make a lot of beer. Which is quite an involved process but seems to make one very popular. I may describe the process in another post because it is actually quite fascinating. But you don't have to read that one if you don't want to. Or this one in fact.

So, I suppose what I am saying is that we live in an age where the opportunity to do and see amazing things is all around us as never before. The allure of inertia - to sit in the warm comfort of our arm chairs and be entertained by electronic media - can be overwhelming. But look! Look! the world is full of opportunity. Time passes and routine can be reassuring. But how many days are there passed in stultifying unremarkability? That's your life passing by that is! 
The days and weeks will pass anyway. It seems better to punctuate them with little points of light and memories that make you smile. Do stuff that makes you alive, makes you think, puts points of interest on the map of your past life! Don't wait for fate to give you that warning to make better use of your days. In the words of a manager I once knew (but in a far more enlightened context): JFDI!

Monday, 6 January 2014

It's all tangents these days.

Back at my desk, in the office which consists of mainly grey, corporate "furniture" of a uniformity that is utterly stultifying, the noise suddenly strikes me. They moved us from a building initially designed as a production environment (with commensurate noise-damping surfaces and high ceilings) to an open-plan office in which you can hear a colleague fart twenty desks away. Each phone conversation, often participated in by those who have complete obliviousness to the volume level of their voices, can be heard word for word forty feet away. I feel occasionally like wandering round to explain this before realising that perhaps I am the same: Perhaps my discussions, enunciated carefully and clearly for customers who I know well and for whom English is a foreign language (albeit one which most of them manage better than many of my British colleagues) are equally loud and irritating.
It leaves little room for thought. My reconstructed brain has regained almost all of its original functionality. But if I was a little ADHD before, I am a positive flibberdigibbet now. Some mechanism pertaining to attention (never a strength of mine) is yet to mend and perhaps now never will. Hence, every person wandering by, glimpsed out of the corner of my eye, causes a "non-maskable interrupt" (a computer programming term for the insistence of a process that it must have the processor's undivided attention and no, will not take "I am busy!" for an answer). A turn of the head in each case and a requirement then to appraise the situation before returning to what was I doing, each stage of which takes a finite amount of task-switching time. Most disruptive.

So, the conversations intrude and my mind is filled with other peoples' imperatives and requests and observations. And all my own thoughts are roughly jostled out of the way, some of them falling into an abyss of forgetfulness, never to be rediscovered. And the greyness of the environment makes the appearance of new and interesting thoughts in my addled bonce increasingly unlikely. Most frustrating.

Being a bit creative is often required in most jobs. But it's surprising what saps the creative energies, leaving nothing left for that which we would like to create. Well, this piece of drivel is one example: This is the result of a sincere intention to write something entirely different, the gist of which I have no recollection of now. The bottom of that abyss must be a really interesting place, with all those fragments of forgotten concepts and insistent thoughts that must surely lie broken at the bottom. Perhaps down there they kind of decompose like a layer of mental compost from which one day a great and glorious tree of inspiration will emerge.
I do hope so because I have a surfeit of words all clamouring to be expressed and nothing much to apply them to.

Anyway, (and a complete non-sequitur here) I have decided that although it is not a resolution as such, 2014 is to be my Year of Friends. This year, it is time to reach out in every way possible, and touch the world and the people in it. It has been a long time of looking inward (mostly to see what is still working and what needs yet to be fixed).
But no more: Time to come out of the shell and venture some invitations, suggestions and general connections.
And I also intend to learn foxtrot. A chap needs a project and the Argentine Tango is all very well, but I have kind of got the hang of it now and it wasn't what I expected.

Happy 2014. How on Earth did I get here?