Tuesday, 31 August 2010

What do I know?

I'm aware I can be a pain in the arse when, as they say, I "go off on one". That is, when I get on my high-horse and spout what may appear to be (to the lesser attuned ear) certitudes, in a confident, all-knowing manner. But that's not what's happening.

I know little, or at least, I'm not sure about much. I'm usually playing devil's advocate, just to stir things a little, though I guess that threatens the less fluid self-images amongst us.

I can only be me. This is how I am. After all, I have to say something, don't I? Or would you wish that I hid from view all but the most trivial of my thoughts? Or that I said little, or perhaps, nothing at all?

I can feel threatened too. I'm not above all this. I have my moments when the humour is gone, and what's been said is more than I can bear... but it passes.

One thing I do know for sure: ultimately, I can laugh, and laugh, and then laugh again, at myself.

Silence is golden

Online, via chat, forums, or social networks, I've had little to say about music, to the extent on more than a few occasions I've been pointedly asked if I liked it at all. A strange question you might think, given it's omnipresence in all of our lives, so much so, I'm sure, most of us take its importance as read. Though I'm a little concerned for some, who I've heard express their love for music in the most extreme terms [and usually, histrionic manner]: "I would just DIE without my music!". A little excessive I think, though I get their point; but I have to remark that pre-twentieth century, the majority of people on this planet had access to little if any music, most certainly on an individual and private basis, and yet, somehow, despite this tragic omission from their lives, they somehow coped. Ahem... anyway...

I've said little about music because I learned a long time ago how personal it is. I found no matter how great an impact a particular piece of music or song made on me, I invariably failed when I tried to impress others of it's greatness: "yeah, that's okay", they'd say, "but listen to this... how fucking great is that?". But alas, in turn, in a similar manner, I'd fail to enthuse. Eventually, it sunk in: maybe it's not so much that music has inherent qualities for us all to agree on and share in, perhaps it's primarily about us as individuals, our particular psychology, our personal history. To put it succinctly (and to demonstrate once again, I know longish words): taste is largely idiosyncratic.

This is why, on social network profiles, I smile and at the same time get irritated, when I see long, long lists of a persons musical preferences (the same is done with books and movies). Does anyone truly believe that you can tell ANYTHING about a person by knowing the music he or she likes? Liking similar tracks, books, or movies is coincidence, and has as much significance as having a liking for bananas or a favourite colour. In my experience, you like someone despite their tastes. Personality I'm sure, is not culture-dependent.

Not that I'm leaving this post without paying a little lip-service to my "musical history", and "history" it is, as the musical content was impossible to evaluate. I'm talking of a Beatles concert I attended, circa 1965 (yes, I'm that old). Courtesy of two girl "friends", who queued all night for tickets, I was able to go witness this historic event. I heard little, apart from a few snatches of the verse in "Nowhere Man" (the tour was in part, promoting their new album, Rubber Soul), but it was nevertheless, an experience. And before you ask the question, no, I didn't scream!

So... music and I? I believe myself to have have wide eclectic tastes, having no preferences genre-wise. Indeed, when it comes to live music, I'm happy to watch a virtuoso performance on the spoons. But then, very often, live music is something else, and is arguably less about the music and more to do with tribalism, quasi-religion, or at the very least, fulfilling the need to "belong". But that's another argument...

For those of you who know anything about musical notation, you'll know all music is punctuated by pauses of varying lengths, and in it's own way, a pause is a peculiar kind of note; so It's fair to say, silence is an integral part of music. I'm sure if you were to take out these gaps, what would be left would be noise, plain and simple. Which brings me to my point: come on folks, let's hear it for that much misunderstood and much-maligned phenomenon, silence.

I'd just DIE without silence.

Silent Music.

Saturday, 21 August 2010


And a great lassitude descended upon me. My eyes drooped and I slumped, powerless to resist the bidding of the Sandman. Mesmeric passes of his hands sent magic dust flying into my eyes, and he whispered a lullaby, a gentle cajoling into deep sleep...

Of course, this was self-inflicted, and no doubt a common response to the sudden, brutal decision, to cease the imbibition of all drinks laden with caffeine. Yep, that's it folks, I'm off the coffee, tea also

It's day three since that decision but day two of abstinence "proper". I've had the headache, no big deal, fully expected, and easily taken care of by means of paracetamol. The problem lies in my body's predilection to shut down, or attempt to. Not that this is a new experience, but historically, it occurs towards mid-day, or just after lunch... but never at days-beginning!

I'm missing the "buzz", that short-lived but seductive feeling of "power", of hyper-alertness. Now I feel as if a once bright light has been dimmed. But I've read some "Science" on caffeine and of its effects on the human body, and the findings concur with my experience, especially in the realms of mood and quality of sleep. It has to be done.

Put's on resolute face [jutting jaw and narrowed eyes] and bravely marches forth into a future without the "black stuff". Softly whistles John Lennons's, Cold Turkey.

I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The Banes (of my Life)

Migraine. The aural sort. I've suffered with this unpleasant and debilitating intrusion since I was fourteen years old. It first occurred when sitting in a Technical Drawing class, the words and diagrams on the chalk-board (oh how quaint) became obscured in part, as a zig-zag light-show expanded across half of my visual field. It passed, but an hour later I was beset by a savage, sick, headache. It's a total affliction, and not as many seem to think, a headache. It requires darkness, quiet, and rest.

This morning, I suffered my third attack in 24 hours. I was due to visit the dental hygienist too. Oh joy. There's a tendency for one's body to want to sleep when afflicted so, and this was the case as I lay back in the hygienist's chair. As she scraped, polished, and probed (I'm sure I detected a low, sadistic cackling) I was twice awakened by her as my slackening and closing jaws threatened to clamp onto her instruments of torture!

Self-absorption. Typical of, though not exclusive to, introverts. From moment to moment I'm toying with, pushing, pulling, turning up, over, and around, thoughts. I'm rarely "totally out there" (except on special occasions, for instance, when having sex, or juggling). This inwardness accounts for accusations of being "spaced", "a dreamer", or simply, "not paying attention". I have a suspicion my inability, or at least, poor performance at multi-tasking, is due to this constant inner-focus. Not that I want to move too far along the spectrum to the point of being "out there" fully, but the ability to raise my head and shoulders above the parapet of my inner-sanctum, would be progress.

Misunderstandings. These abound in my life. This is related in part, to my self-absorption. Even when conversing, or writing, I have difficulty in getting all of my thoughts out, either verbally or on paper. In my haste to get the words spoken or written, I'll often leave ideas, crucial to the understanding of what I'm saying, in my head. This can have amusing results, but all too often, it creates conflict. Thus I need to exercise what I lack most, patience.

Impatience. In my estimation, a vice, and my worst. I want everything now, if not yesterday. I've tried to ameliorate this desire,but I've concluded it's essentially innate and almost, but not quite, beyond cure.

Impulsiveness. Linked to impatience. Self-restraint is not my forte. I've had a measure of success, but at those times when I'm not at my best, the wisdom of stepping back, allowing time to think, goes out of the window. I jump. My inwardness and impatience prevent me from digesting information fully, and I get the "wrong end of the stick"; in fact, I can miss the stick altogether, and grasp something totally different, something conceived in my imagination only. If I'm in a "delicate" conversation, problems may ensue.

Lay psychological analysis. I can't help this one. It's "what I do". It's fun, but can be fraught with danger. I quote from Wikipedia; To criticise does not necessarily imply to find fault, but the word is often taken to mean the simple expression of prejudice or disapproval. It's a risky business engaging in such a discipline, but like I say, it's what I do. Other's go white-water rafting, or bungee-jumping. Oh the adrenalin rush...

When I began writing this post, I expected to fill it with a veritable gallimaufry of trivial annoyances and pet-hates. But it seems, all of my issues in life are primarily internal. Is that good or bad? Hmmm....

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Artful dodgings

It wasn’t many years ago, during what I call the hey-day of blogging, web journals were by and large, personal. At least that was my perception. I can remember a time when, at the inception of the ‘next blog button’ in Blogger, its use would more than likely give you a personal site, a site making general observations about life, love, the family, and all related mundanities. Less frequent were the Art, craft, and special interest blogs which seem to proliferate these days. Not that this is a bad thing (and I confess to being fascinated by those persons I consider “proper” artists) but it makes me wonder, what is this thing we call ‘Art’. Even I’m not immune to aspire to create in this way, indeed, my Ipad sports two, as yet, unused, Art applications - Brushes, and Sketchbook Pro. And I was interested enough to pay for them, though the fascination isn’t random. I do have what may be called, a history in this domain.

A while ago now, when just a child, in my class I was considered to be one of the more “talented” draughtsman and painters, if not the best. This accolade lasted throughout my school years until such time I left at age sixteen. It culminated in the award of a free scholarship for the local college of Art, Birmingham. Not that I ever attended. Dad saw to that. His prejudice ensured I would never end up like those “long-haired layabouts (aka Art students) hanging out at the fountain square!”.

Ironic words in retrospect, considering this was the mid-sixties, just prior to the apogee of the “hippy years”; and, as it transpired, my sympathies lay with these, the great “unwashed” (as referred to by the less tolerant). My allegiance to this “scruffy bunch” was badged by means of thick, wavy hair, cascading over my shoulders (oh how I miss those days when, even washed in carbolic soap, it shone as if conditioned by the finest most expensive lotions and oils) Not that I spent too much time displaying my luxuriant locks around Birmingham’s premier water-feature. Not at all. My preference was for the upstairs room at Bogarts, a public house at the top end of New Street - the choice of hippies, quasi and authentic alike. But still, arguably it amounted to a, “Hey there daddy, look, see my finger?”

I can’t though, in all fairness, blame father. Like many of his generation he did his best, ensuring I was fed, clothed and well shod. He wouldn’t have known of progressive concepts such as encouragement or support, and as for personal expression, he’d have viewed the idea with disdain, thinking, and I can imagine him saying, “what a load of crap!”. Life was clear-cut. It was his and mothers job to ensure the statutory requirement of school attendance was met; it was not their brief to take an interest, or get involved in, the work itself. Neither did they ensure I did my homework, so you can guess as to my extra-curricular effort! No, for them it was simple and uncomplicated: school was designed to pass time till I was able to leave and go out into the big world, to earn shoe leather. That last year of school, at age 16, was the last time I remember putting HB grade pencil to paper, or brush to paint pot.

In retrospect, I’m not convinced, had father been of another mind, it would have turned out differently. I don’t ever remember feeling particularly skilled at drawing and painting. Techniques were never broached, not during my time at school anyway. It was about natural(and I use the word cautiously) “talent’. When it came to drawing, all I did was emulate as best I could what I saw, though I was aware, comparatively speaking, my efforts were often more realistic than those of my classmates; but I didn’t feel it was due to the possession of any skill, more a lack of something on their part. I was praised, but it never felt deserved. How could it? To do what came naturally didn’t require obstacles to be overcome, or the application of effort. I just did what I did. Though it’s possible, if this innate ability had been mentored and nurtured, I’d be capable of producing the kind of work I now admire. It’s a big If.

In my maturity, I often reflect on those times. Is my current interest in Art solely down to the praise heaped upon me all those years ago? Am I looking to engage in something I can be good at, and which I feel will gain me approval? Or maybe I feel the approval comes from the cool appellation of, Don Swift, Artist! Or is it, as many would claim, innate? Is the manipulation of paint, clay, and other materials, a vehicle for self-expression? Or perhaps an end in itself, the very act of painting, or sculpting, a meditation in manipuilation? I don’t know. Not yet.

The whole notion of Art and Artist is puzzling, for me at least. What is it? In its most popular usage, to describe a sphere of activity, it becomes more elusive. What constitutes Art or being an Artist? Is it, for example, simply the engaging in painting that makes you an Artist? But what if you copy faithfully a work considered to be Art, does that make you an Artist too? Or are you, no matter how competent, simply a craftsman? Of course, as I write all of this, the question comes plainly into view: does it matter? I have to say, yes, inasmuch as many talk with authority (rightly or wrongly) on this very subject.

My provisional idea, and I’d appreciate any constructive criticism, is: if the work involved employs skilled and repetitive techniques only, even if the finished result is of the highest quality, then it's considered a craft. But, if the work has implicit within it, something novel, something challenging, something which stirs the imagination, then it can be considered Art. Maybe.

I'm toying with the idea that a necessary, but not sufficient condition for being an Artist is to have attitude: to challenge, to confront, to be contrary; the opposite of the formulaic, which craft always is. Again, maybe.

You’ll have to excuse me now, I’m off to get to grips with my digital painting applications. Don’t expect any displays too soon though.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Words that trouble me #1 - nice

I find this word so general in it's applicability, as to have virtually no meaning, especially when used in the realm of human relationships. Take for instance, the assertion, "oh he's a nice bloke!" - what precisely, does that mean?

If ever this word is used to describe me (a rare occasion) I feel, if not offended, then uncomfortable. And though I appreciate it's often applied when the user is too lazy (or perhaps unable) to be more specific in their description, I suspect its frequently used to state implicitly: this person is safe; this person is no threat; this person doesn't compromise my security; this person won't upstage me. He or she is, quite simply, nice.

Being a nice person puts you in big demand, but for all the wrong reasons. It's concluded, in terms of your sociability, you're about as effective as a slap with a limp biscuit.

And nice is sought after; people even marry nice, in order to preserve their ascendancy. Well, it's their prerogative, but personally, I prefer to aspire towards equality, which is often, if not always, painful, and requires effort; but then, if you're really respecting of the rights of others, and aware of your natural tendencies to trample on them, albeit subtly, you'll have no issue with this, indeed, you'll welcome it!

Go on, test yourself! In future, when you find yourself ascribing this word to someone, try to be honest with yourself, what precisely are you saying? And if you're the recipient of such an ascription, consider what I've said, do you like being considered nice? Is nice, in view of what I've said, what you want to be?

Friday, 13 August 2010

Cerebrally right

I received an email today, bearing the sentiment - Happy Left-handers Day!  I had no idea. Did you?

Blinking here. Nonplussed.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Slap a doody ding dong

It's all too easy to take life and ourselves too seriously. For this reason I recommend engaging, at least occasionally, in the age-old regime of silliness.*

Daftness, as a discipline is broad. There are, and never have been, hard and fast rules as to what constitutes, "acting the pratt"; but as a general rule of thumb, it steers clear of the clever, being nothing if not: an antidote against the dangers of intellectualism; a cure for pomposity; a salve to steer us clear of arrogance; and a needle to prick the bubble of vanity.

Phlappat, phlippet, badoing!

In this all too serious world, silliness acts as a safety-valve to release health-damaging tension. I use it to counteract my tendencies to slip into pretentiousness, often seen on this very blog.


A typical 'silly' I use throughout the day is to substitute, "furry muff", for the phrase, "fair enough". And recently I've taken to thinking of my lunchtime fare as, "sand wedges", or, "sang widges" (Children know, understand, and revel in this kind of "silly"). So...

Remember, for the sake of your physical health and your sanity, don't take life too seriously; come on, you know it makes sense, don't laugh.... I'm serious!


* Not to be confused with stupidity. This is stupidity.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Long dark night of the soul

Continuing on the subject of drink, there's an interesting effect of over-indulgence, though I'm not talking about the morning after, but the evening ahead.

In my youth I called this effect , "the horrors", though that's an overstatement, as in truth, it's less severe. The following day, as bedtime approaches, it begins, experienced as a non-specific dread. It affects sleep too. Periodically, I'll awaken and find myself beset by these amorphous phantasms; and all attempts to fend them off via the power of rational thought are futile.

You have to admire and envy those who drink Horlicks only!

Thursday, 5 August 2010

A whine about wine

Yesterday evening was one of those occasions becoming evermore rare, deemed to be a good time to partake of a little more than a glass or bottle of alcoholic beverage (these days, occasional indulgences). The first glass (of Chardonnay I think) left me feeling pleasantly relaxed, rather mellow. I felt at peace with both myself and the world. But... therein lies the Danger. Why, you may ask? Well, there is, in my humble estimation, a strange logic cum illogic regarding alcohol: from the premise one drink makes you feel good, it is concluded two will double the pleasure, three triple it, and four... well, you get the idea. It doesn't though, as you know.

At some point, probably at the fifth glass, the unwanted realisation of this sad truth pressed upon my consciousness. The logic didn't hold. If it had, at this point I ought to have been hovering in the upper-stratosphere, approaching the gates of Nirvana, if not already there. Alas, the glow had since worn off, leaving only slight depression and guilt feelings for once again succumbing to this false-logic.

Maybe as a young man I should have persevered with marijuana?

Never again!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Ponderings on parochialism

Life is still able to surprise me, as I found this morning during my commute to work. On this occasion I didn't have the company of my usual "train buddy", John, who was probably delayed; instead I found myself surrounded by a "gaggle" of middle-aged women; a lively bunch, laughing, chattering, and causing good-natured mayhem.

From their conversation, I gleaned they were on a day trip to London, an exciting excursion into the "Big Smoke". They spoke excitedly of Camden Market, Museums, the Thames, and the "dangers" (retail-wise) of Oxford Street. They were well-prepared too, displaying bag after bag of provisions: wet-wipes, tissues, tourist guide books, food, and surprisingly, washing powder. They offered me a muffin; I declined, "thanks all the same", said I, "but it's too early in the day!". Oh how they laughed, almost.

My destination approached, and as I excused myself from the group, I bid them a good visit. At that moment, approaching the exit, I was overwhelmed by the desire to stay on the train, with a view to tagging along with this jolly group. Feelings long-buried, engulfed me: the forgotten thrill of my youthful, "illicit" days off, when, with my friend, I'd forego the office, and instead, spend the day wasting time sipping beer in a pub (I was living with my parents, and at days end, I'd arrive home, feigning tiredness after a hard day's toil).

Needless to say, I didn't act upon this desire, but I have feelings of regret. A chance missed. And why? Because for most of us, Life insidiously creates around us, a hard veneer of routine, of responsibility, of shoulds, oughts, and musts. We become provincial in every sense, safe, secure, but sadly, limited.

For the first time since my youth, I have no compelling obligation to anyone. Nothing binds me. Not a person, nor place. I'm free to do, as I wish. Then why don't I? Next time, just you see... next time...

Sunday, 1 August 2010


I don’t think Science has all the answers. There are some things I’m sure, scientific methodology will never explain; indeed, it’s based on the erroneous dualism of inanimate and animate objects. But all perceptive persons know the Universe is alive, whether at molecular or planetary level. Take the days of the week for instance, they have personalities. Yes, you may scoff, but it's true; take the other week for example, a Thursday.

I knew from the off it was “different”. As I entered the station car park, I noticed there were few spaces occupied. The train too was pleasantly spacious, allowing the spreading of one's legs, and imbuing one with the substantial feeling of “impending weekend”. And if you should think, "so what? What's the big deal, it's just one of those days!", let me tell you, the office gave off a similar air. My colleagues too were of a lightened disposition, usually seen on Fridays and Christmas Eve only. How much more evidence do you require?

Well, I can telll you, I was livid. I’m not a stick-in-the-mud, and I like a practical joke as much as the next man, but this was a jape too far. For the working man or woman, some things are inviolable, never to be tampered with, and the “feel” of the day is one of those. I was damn convinced it was Friday. It looked and felt as much. So imagine my despair when after a brief conversation with a colleague, I realised I'd been fooled. Why was Thursday doing this to me? Why was “the day” taking the piss so? Had I in some way offended it? Maybe I’d inadvertently walked upon the cracks in the pavement? Walked under a ladder? Or perhaps, whistled on a Tuesday? I guess I'll never know.

Talking of objects hitherto thought of as inanimate, did you know mirrors are alive too? This is true. And some of them are truly beastly. I’m thinking in particular of the mirrors in department stores... oh how horrid they make me look. Thank goodness for the “toilet mirror” at my place of work - she’s my buddy (mirrors have gender too, you know) and is so kind to me... gives a more realistic portrayal... takes years off me.

I refuse to talk about the weather, that schizoid, malevolent, demon....