Friday, 23 May 2014

Our Words are our Babies.

Today, I look out at foliage which, yesterday in the sunshine was lush and verdant, celebratory of all the fecundity and joy that this season is capable of instilling in us. However, through the rivulets of rain rolling sullenly down the window, it looks merely drab today against the grey sky.
Well, we know that May can be fickle but what strikes me is how different our moods can be based entirely upon atmospheric conditions. And how it colours our perception of our situation.

The hopefulness of yesterday has diminished to a mere plaintive murmur somewhere deep down and in its place has emerged a kind of mild despair and tendency to look at the disadvantageous implications of circumstance.

Things are, to continue to allude, albeit tenuously, to an atmospheric metaphor, Up in the Air. The ever-present spectre of redundancy hangs around us all, prodding our fears and insecurities with a kind of imperative to do the things that perhaps might improve our chances of not being one of the unlucky ones. And of course, the rain rains on the just and the unjust, so no level of diligence is likely to increase the probability of continued employment. This is, of course, not an uncommon position to be in. It is a permanent feature of the employment landscape these days for must of us who work for a company and not for ourselves. Such Is Life.

I haven't been writing here much. The reason for this is kind-of linked to the above: Children effectively grown-up and flown the nest and work tailing off, I find a new, more "authentic" (and ain't that the word of the moment!) approach to life beckons. Quite what that is, I am unsure. But I know it does not involve a corporate environment.
So, what is one to do?

Well, these words seem to be flowing rather well here, and this is encouraging: So, flowing words coupled with some kind of compelling topic means a need for a more self-expressive creative project. To this end, I am finally giving in to those of my friends who have suggested, cajoled and nagged me (and you know who you are!) over recent years to write a book. And that is where most of my words have been finding their way of late. It will be about something I know a tremendous amount about and which sounds rather banal when I see it written down: Home Wine making. Ok. No big deal there. But writing it has brought me an existential pleasure of accomplishing something and even if nobody ever sees it but me, a kind of personal satisfaction will have been achieved.

Well, I looked around at all the books on this topic and generally I believe a lot of them are pretty poor, the good ones being written generations ago and much science and economics having moved swiftly on since then. I made my first wine, apple, when I was 12 about thirty mumble years ago. And it was so good I was enthused and soon had many gallons on the go. I must have made hundreds of gallons of it since then. I am, by popular agreement, quite good at it. 
On the left, my very popular P3 Porter and on the right, last year's elderberry.

My damson is to die for and my ginger and banana, (though seemingly an odd combination) when accompanying cake, will make your tastebuds fair sing with delight.
So I know what I am talking about.
The next book will be about the mysterious process of beer making, from grain, in a home kitchen, something I also seem to be good at, by universal consensus. Niche, I know. But I truly believe there is a need for such works.
My all-grain English Pale Ale: 4.4%, golden, fragrant, nutty. Just like me.
But this is not about that. This is about a strange aspect of the process of writing which initially troubled me but now merely intrigues.

Ok, we come here to offer our words freely and often tentatively, and they are of ourselves: A window into our inner workings. The things we do, the idle thoughts that crave expression and find their way into text, appear here. And sometimes people will comment, usually positively about what we have written. And that's all very nice and all.

So, I wrote a few chapters and submitted them to literary friends for perusal and consistency checks and feedback was forthcoming. And I found a remarkable response bubbled up in me!

Our words are chosen and combined in ways which we use to represent ourselves. They are our words. So, when changes are suggested, no matter how well-meaning and sensible they seem, it causes the strangest feeling of protectiveness. Is this just me?

A suggestion for rewording feels like a comment about the curious shape of my nose or the way my teeth have chosen to assemble themselves in my smile. How much does changing what I have written (beyond spelling or grammar mistakes) change the essence of myself I have put into the construction of the piece?

A most odd train of thought and one which I am going to need to go away and think about. Ultimately, I can assess the "corrections" and suggestions on their merit, try them out and see if they flow better or represent what I am trying to say more accurately or not. And then i can accept or reject them.

I never realised how personal the whole thing was!

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Lessons from a Broken Phone

So, once again, I am up in an aeroplane, from Hanover to Heathrow as so often used to be the case when things were busier and I was more inclined to travel. So, here I am, high above the clouds and the irksome worries of everyday life. One cannot be troubled by what is left behind down there, or what awaits upon landing, when trapped in a seat at 35000 feet without communications with the rest of one’s life. Well, I suppose it is possible, but it is not really to be advised on the grounds it would be an exercise in futility, unless some firm resolution could be arrived at in the “thinking time” provided by such periods of enforced introspection.

I decided actually to eschew my usual colourful internal contemplation in favour of sitting with my eyes closed and allowing the sounds of the plane and the people it contained to percolate uncommented upon, into my consciousness. It is quite an interesting exercise to do this and it is surprising just what a variety of sounds exist which we usually don’t allow ourselves to be aware of. From the hum of the engines and the thrum of beat frequencies produced by the minor differences in their pitch, to the enthusiastic conversation of the Middle Eastern gentleman, in joyous tones, conversing with a previously po-faced Hanoverian lady who now appears to have come out of her shell in a wonderfully animated and liberated way in response.
Then there are the various crinkling of plastic wrappers of biscuits and crisps and the rushing white-noise of the air conditioning. None of this is interesting, per se, but the act of noticing it where I hadn’t before is quite fascinating.
And while I was sitting, just registering the sounds without opinion in a dispassionate manner, I remembered suddenly that I had broken my mobile phone: Dropped and smashed accidentally upon the tiled floor of a bar in Paderborn yesterday evening after a moment’s inattention. My shiny South Korean Small Object of Desire sending fragments across the room and dooming me to radio silence for the foreseeable future. All in a split second of carelessness.
How tiresome.  But  how liberating. Nobody can call me and ask for help with diagnosing technical issues or request me to go and give a presentation in some part of the world I have no wish to visit. Of course, my friends also  cannot invite me to parties or ask advice on the construction of clay pizza ovens or how many grammes of raisins they should put in their parsnip wine. But in general, the loss of this lifeline to the world of other-people-beyond-my-immediate-vicinity feels like a kind of opportunity.
I wandered, after my phone smashing incident, back through Paderborn to my hotel  with the strangest feeling of bereavement almost, and I wondered how it had happened that I had become so dependent upon this small device.
So, I meandered through the streets, looking in shop windows, my vague melancholy displaced as I went about admiring paintings and being amused by this particular tapestry that was on display for all to see, despite being rather gratuitously explicit.  
These people are not fretting about their investment portfolio.
It seems in antiquity, there were, amongst all the tuberculosis and religious repression, still good times to be had by those determined and limber enough to pursue them. Had I merely rushed  past on the phone, I probably wouldn’t have noticed this tableau and its depiction of enthusiastic debauchery. Immediate benefits, you see?
An odd sense of liberation began to dawn, a removal of the compulsion to be “in contact”.
I wonder briefly if perhaps I should build in contingency to my travel for such occasions: How would I, for instance call to rearrange my flight had I got stuck on the autobahn? I would be pretty stuck, yes. Maybe I could purchase a phone card for credit on payphones. Do they still exist? You know, I can’t recall seeing one for years. But perhaps, like the hum of the engines, I wouldn’t notice until I brought my attention to bear on the subject.
I think that in the twenty years or more I have had a mobile phone for business travel, this is the first time I have been without the services of one. Ok, the first ones required considerable wrist strength to hold any lengthy conversation but there was always a link to the world of friends, loved ones and support back at the office. And now, here I am with no phone. Is it worth contingency for such rare incidences? I suppose it is one of those calculations we perform, based upon our inherent “risk thermostat”: What situations might arise, what seriousness do they present and how much trouble are we prepared to go to in order to prevent such circumstances being more than a minor inconvenience?
It’s a question of general interest I suppose, affecting such things as insurance and disease prevention, self-defence and smoking. What risks are we prepared to accept in the name of convenience or enjoyment and what do feel an imperative urge to plan contingency for?
I didn’t miss my flight. I might have some issues with getting my car when I arrive at the airport as I use the parking chap who takes it away and brings it back when I land (presumably washing his hands due to the filthy, elderly and knackered state of my old Skoda, so different from the shiny BMWs left by other, more image-conscious and wealthy business travelers).
In general then, perhaps we distress ourselves too much with imaginings. Somehow, sitting here regarding the sounds around me, I feel that this must be the case and resolve to bring the same detached  observation to whatever troublesome thoughts appear to attempt to ruffle the mellow spiritual creaminess in which I attempt to live my life.

Let’s see if it works with in flight turbulence, shall we?