Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Cheers! First today! (circa 2006)

The snow, sparse and light, dances in the wind, bouncing off the window pane, settling on housetops and hedges, dusting white the grass and benches; everything, save the warm trodden paths and roadways. Their contrast lends the scene a picturesque air.

It occurs to me, the winter has a habit of mocking us. Around this time each year the winds ease and sunshine warms the air. Our step lightens and relieved we smile, making small talk, believing spring has arrived. But it doesn't last. After finishing business elsewhere, winter resumes, and without ado, quickly and mercilessly casts a chill cloak of sleet, ice and snow across the land. And overnight, the relaxed ambulations of yesterdays cheery pedestrians, transform into edgy, hurried scampering, as hunched and hooded, they seek their destinations. There's no time to stroll, and little time to talk. And all the while, winter laughs.

Inside, my attention is taken by the serenity of the room. The homes of the aged, I muse, are characterised by near silence; emphasised by low, unobtrusive sounds: the tick of the pendulum clock; the soft hiss of the gas fire, and the erratic whistle of the wind in the chimney space behind. And in between and around them, if you pay careful attention, the past can be discerned. Chipwood cabinets adorned with souvenirs: mementos of outings from a different age; and framed photographs of young and old, the dead and the living, whisper to me, reminding me of how things were, how they are, and how they will be.

As times gone by show themselves in the quiet, contemplative realms of the aged, perhaps, I thought, the noise of youth serves to quell its murmurings; a past that seeks to remind us of life's cycle of birth, death and regeneration. I can remember when I was young; a time when the acquisitions of the old, much like those in my mother's home, would fill me with unease; a distinct, but unrecognisable disquiet. But perhaps this is as it should be. Both ages have their time. Youth, with its excess of vigour pays homage to the present, with the future an indeterminate and infinite highway, stretching to the horizon and beyond; whilst the old honour a past inextricably bound up with the present. And their future is at arms length. The end is perceived. The road is finite.

On the nightime, as I lay next to my mother's bed, I listened to her replaying instances of her life in self-talk and dreams (impossible for me to discern which). And throughout the day, on those occasions she spoke, she talked fondly of incidents and people long gone; of a half-brother, Sonny, whom she loved, who through illness, died young; and of a father incomparably kind. Frail and breathless, but not broken, she smiled and chuckled as she spoke, a glint in her eye.

If we are lucky enough to endure into old age, then hopefully we can pull its various strands together, to form a meaningful and worthwhile whole. This is what my mother has done. Despite having outlived her first and second born children; surviving the anguish and anxiety of the blitz, when the German Luftwaffe strove to flatten her home town; and more recently, watching her husband, my father, sink slowly towards death via a morphine-induced netherworld of non-recognition and bewilderment - in spite of all this, she honours her life with its telling, in humour and good cheer.

It wasn't so long ago I showed concern about reaching the end of my life. I regarded old-age as a cruel trick inflicted upon us by an uncaring Universe; a side-effect of a blind evolution. Again, I made the mistake of looking outward for answers; stretching and straining my mind in a futile effort to elicit meaning via a meta-explanation; an all-encompassing theory to satisfy and comfort me. Now I know better. The meaning of life is in its detail. For each one of us it can be found within the particular moments, the details of our lives...

Most weekends, my mother, Janet, and I, dine out at a local carvery. When the eating has finished and we are about to begin our respective drinks (my mother’s choice is lager), we always laugh as her tiny age-shrunken face, set beneath a black woollen hat, beams, as she raises her glass and toasts, “Cheers! First today!”

Cheers mom! And thanks… for everything!

Monday, 29 November 2010

Sad fantasy (circa 2005)

I stroke and slide my fingers along its length... it weeps.

Stooping forward, my lips part, almosting touch it's head... I softly envelope it with my warm breath. No restraint, it comes... softly at first...

The microphone transports my voice through the PA system, prompting the throng to chant my name as I manipulate the strings of my Fender Stratocaster. It hangs low across my thighs as I caress it with peerless virtuosity. It wails and whines and I croon to the crowd.

I love my rock and roll fantasy. A modern meditation. For a while it soothes me, in the same way as sitting meditation. It's om with oomph!

Now the summer is a faded memory and again I face the long wait to Christmas. My mood is changing. Last year was particularly bleak. Across the festive break and beyond, the sky was dark and low, hemming me in. Spiritually, I was diminished, to the point my doctor prescribed anti-depressants. I perservered, for less than a week (I'm known for my commitment and tenacity) before throwing them, 'my little friends', into the bin. Fuck them, I thought. They're only dealing with the symptoms. I preferred to take my chances and go for the ride.

The situation improved...

And so it comes around again. The passing of summer, and the onset of the long, long winter herald the onset of my 'blues'. But SAD (the alleged seasonal affective disorder), is not the whole story.

Autumn sees the end of the caravan Holiday Park season. At the back end of October, utilities are switched off and the caravan interiors littered with bowls of salt, strategically placed to absorb excess moisture. The television and hi-fi are wrapped in bubble-wrap and blankets, protecting them from winter's extremes; mattresses and removable cushions are precariously arranged, stood on end, or propped against convenient furniture, to allow maixum airing. The once warm and inviting interior takes on a cold, inhospitable air. And the steady dribble of occupants away from the park, leaves the site with few signs of life, as it takes on a sad and melancholy air. But Saddest of all is its personal significance - gone are the occasional weekends when Janet visits the caravan, leaving myself, and the animals, home, alone.

Solitude is my life's blood. I need the occasional fix to shake free from togetherness's cosy but constricting bonds. I need to experience, for awhile, myself. Lest I forget.

Roll on Spring.

Till then, to help me through, I'll look to my Ipod. Let's see, Bowie I think. The Jean Genie. The crowd are going wild...

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Interesting . . .

It's a new twist on an old idea (remember the monkeys on typewriters?)... if, on the comment section of Blogger you were to spend an infinite amount of time refreshing the page, retrieving a new Word Verification on each pass, eventually you'd come up with all the alphabetic characters needed to form the Complete Works Of William Shakespeare, though not necessarily in comprehensible order. Makes you think though, doesn't it..

Epiphany (written circa 2005)

The story of my life is not remarkable. It’s not rich in tales of high drama, overcoming insurmountable obstacles, or displays of academic and artistic brilliance. In this respect, I’m ordinary. Like everyone else I’ve fantasized of achieving great distinction, of public acclaim and its attendant benefits. But In reality it can never be. The public gaze would be too much for me to bear. The characteristics I’ve inherited mark out the boundaries of what, for me, is possible; to realise these fantasies I would have to be someone else, which of course is impossible; to wish I were someone else is a self-betrayal. It seems clear cut - we have to accept ourselves. I’m happy being ordinary.

In setting the scene for my post I would love to recount a tale of blissful youth, a text-book joyride throughout early adulthood culminating in a fulfilled maturity. But that would be fiction. Neither can I claim the role of victim, wronged by others yet stoically fighting against all the odds to find contentment. Tales like these abound. And yet they gain their strength via the perpetration of ill deeds and selfish acts. So somewhere there are villains; don’t they have stories too?

I’ll own up. Due to my poor performance as a husband, father, and provider, I can claim the role of knave, or general ne’er-do-well. A minor villain. As a feckless youth, leaving school devoid of qualifications, direction, and common sense, I launched myself into the world of work with all the enthusiasm you would expect from a socially inept, self-absorbed, and callow youth. From 16 through to 30 I had a string of non-memorable jobs, long periods of unemployment, a wedding, and four children. Drink bingeing sessions were the order of the day. This went hand in hand with nights away and ill-afforded money spent, culminating with a year out, living with another woman. I was around thirty years old when I found myself back at home with my family, tail between my legs, facing the biggest crisis of my life.

It’s an understatement to say I was in poor shape. Confidence all but destroyed, and self-esteem at an all time low, I felt helpless - a sad, self-pitying wretch, at the end of his tether, unable to stand the pain of self-loathing. I sought help. Not professional, simply advice; assistance to help relieve the suffering. I became steeped in self-help books, psychology, psychotherapy, and all kinds of faddish treatments purporting to heal wounded souls. Each night would find me sitting,surrounded by these books. I would alternate between avidly looking for the solution to my particular ills, and intense introspection. It became a nightly ritual, a meditation. It bore fruit.

The change was instant. What I once thought of as metaphor became reality - I saw the light. It came without warning, as if a switch flicked, initiating a flood of brightness. I was awash, internally and externally. The room became clearer, more intensely vivid than it had ever been before. More importantly, this was accompanied by the absolute conviction that I knew The Truth. The Secret. I chuckled to myself as my morbid preoccupations melted away, replaced by a deep joy. A cliché I know, but this is how it was. I make no apologies.

How long this lasted, I have no idea, it could have been 5 or even 50 minutes. As for the profound knowledge I held, this had gone as quickly as it came. But it did have a lasting effect. The profundity of the experience lay in its unequivocal demonstration of the transience of everyday knowledge. How we feel about ourselves isn’t fixed. There is no reality in self-loathing. It was all I needed to know.

Had I been of a religious disposition, there’s no doubt I would have interpreted this ‘intervention’ as the work of God. Or had there been a 'voice', or unambiguous sign, this story might have taken a different turn; unfortunately, as spectacular as it was, there was no logic inherent in the experience compelling me to draw such a conclusion. Being of a rational sceptical nature, I was simply amazed at the wondrous mechanism we call “mind”. God, it may not have been, but it was good.

We can never know for sure if moments in our lives were pivotal. It may be the case that we were heading in that direction anyway, and we use out of the ordinary moments as markers, or dramatic devices for telling our stories. I don’t know. But I have to believe my epiphany, was the decisive moment in my adult life. Almost at a stroke, I stopped smoking, reduced drinking, got into shape, and more importantly, I took responsibility for my life. Life, for my family and I, got immeasurably better.

The telling of this story is not intended to suggest I have in some way been chosen, or that I own powers far above the ordinary. On the contrary, it can happen to anyone. I was fortunate. I had unwittingly created conditions forcing me into focused meditation. The results are not uncommon, except in many cases it is intended - monks and mystics have been doing it for at least two thousands years. Neither can I claim to be a good person. The episode served to move me forward from a position of helplessness, to a level where I had control, and therefore hope. I still have a long way to go and I would love another boost in the form of a “religious experience”, but that’s being greedy. I’ll have to settle for perspiration rather than “inspiration”, whether divine or otherwise. I cannot forget that many others, lost and helpless, are never so fortunate. I often wonder where I would have been today had it not been for this helping hand. It’s taught me not to judge too harshly.

There, but for the grace of something, go I.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Listomania (another recycled post and one which surprises me by it's anger. Must have been tongue in cheek, surely)

There’s nothing so dull and uninspiring as the simple assertion of what you like or dislike. Without accompanying reasons, to catalogue without qualification your favourite puddings, films, songs, or even, just ‘things’ (cue for a Julie Andrews song)… is to be a boring twat. It's uninterestingly autobiographical. People avoid you. And if ever you wonder why you spend most of your time alone at your computer, with never a peep from the outside cyberworld, it’s probably because you’ve made it your life’s work to cram as much meaningless crap into the ‘my favourites’ sections of your Myspace or Blog profile. Well it’s all shite. No one is interested. You know what it says about you? - you’re a list-maker! Others make music, write novels, climb mountains, invent things, engage in politics, fucking, and dangerous sports, or kill harmless furry animals… but what do you do… duh!… you make fucking lists! It's inclined to give the impression you're at the bottom of the brain chain. Remember, if you ever feel inclined to let the world know why you like or dislike something… give an accompanying reason! Then you stand an outside chance of being interesting.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Time Flies

You heard the expression "time flies"? I was wondering, are they anything like vinegar flies? You know those times when we’re not at our best, and work doesn’t fulfill us? For me, it's usually a Friday afternoon; and although I know it’s best not to, I can’t help but look at the time, and oh my fucking god… it’s dragging! Each minute seems like an hour! Well, I figure time drags thus due to those flies attaching themselves to the minutes, and as a consequence, slowing them down. Maybe some Time-fly spray would not go amiss. You reckon?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Blogging decisions...

For a change, today I was spoilt for choice regarding posting. I've been intending to comment on Steven D. Levitt's controversial paper regarding the link between legalised abortion and a decrease in the crime rate; or, and on a more topical note, writing a short piece on dispelling myths about global warming, which I figured is important. But, after mulling it over, I decided to shelve both of these and talk instead about toast!

There are thee kinds of people in this world: those who don't like toast; those who like it lightly done; and the "let's do it till it's about to burn" sort. I won't say too much about the first, the anti-toast brigade, 'cept to say, like my father and his father before him, I've learned never to trust a person who has no interest in having it browned, even if only lightly. As for the effete, "oh, I like it barely crisp" woosies; well... ya gotta be suspicious of them too; which leaves the, "if you've got to do something, then do it to extreme" party, of which, it goes without saying, I belong.

We recently had a Toaster installed in our office kitchen. This is a welcome addition and compensates in part for the recent removal of the staff brothel, with its attendant Jacuzzi and massage salon. Yes, times are hard everywhere.

I write this post after finishing 2 rounds of crisp, near done-to-death bread, soaked in butter and finished with dollops of shredless marmalade. Mmmmmm.... mmmmm! Yummy!

Don swift reporting from the UK, somewhere in the midlands. Keeping it real!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

A New York Story

July in New York can be hot. And this day was no exception.

My friend Dave and I were making our way on foot, from Manhattan, to Grimaldi's, Brooklyn, the celebrated Pizza Parlour. At a guess, I would say the temperatures were in the upper nineties as we walked in downtown Manhattan; and though we were dressed appropriately (I wore light linen trousers and an even lighter cheesecloth shirt, and Dave was in shorts and tee-shirt) our discomfort showed in our red, sweaty faces, as we puzzled - how to get to the pedestrian walkway? We could see the bridge (it's difficult to miss) but we didn't have the vantage point to discern roads and pathways leading to it.

We guessed, if we walked back in towards the built-up area we would catch sight of the road leading to the bridge, and logically, this should be parallel to the 'footbridge'. So off we went, up a slight incline; the towering concrete of the city looming over of us.

A little way ahead, a man, short and slightly built, carried a bottle of water. He strode, unhurried up the incline. Dave called out, "Excuse me, sir. Do you know how we can get onto the bridge?". He stopped and turned. Steady eyes appraised us, and he replied with the question, "You're from England aren't you?".

Although the water he carried testified somewhat to his awareness of the heat, he otherwise appeared unperturbed. Underneath the intense mid-afternoon sun, he was relaxed and amicable, as he spoke of the UK with knowledge and affection. A charming fellow for sure, taking time out on the most sultry of summer days, to talk to strangers from Europe.

We passed the time listening to him demonstrate a remarkable knowledge of association football, and England in general; and as he adjusted his standing position his jacket fell open. I caught a glimpse of what looked like a polished wooden gun-handle; and as a Brit, unused to such things, I almost did a double-take. I couldn't resist asking, "Can I ask you a personal question?"

"Sure" came the reply".

"Is that a gun you're carrying there?".

Relaxed, as if it was the most natural question in the world, he answered, "Yep. I'm a cop, and this is where I work". With a slight movement of his head he indicated the building we were adjacent to.

We said our goodbyes and watched as he walked, or rather, flowed across the pavement with spectral serenity, into the doorway, and out of sight.

Probably the coolest bloke I've ever met.

Dave and I paused, momentarily computing the encounter; then, with what seemed like a shrug, we stepped in unison, away from the precinct, to find the walkway.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Good Wishes

I'm fucking blocked again strangely transcendent today, not feeling the need to indulge in the trivial pursuit of blogging. However, I hope all of you smug productive bastards out there get zero comments I wish all you fellow bloggers out there a happy and fruitful blogging week.

It's joke. Chuckle

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Well, would you believe it?

I can remember a time when I would avidly follow my local football team, but it's been a while now, nigh on thirty years since I followed them with a passion. Over the years, with the changes in the game, and especially with the importing of foreign players, the concept of 'local team' has lost all meaning for me; aided and abetted by the newer generation 'supporters' who invest their allegiance in the most "successful" clubs at the expense of their local teams.

When I was a lad, supporting your local team was passed on through the generations, and you were "with" your club through thick and thin. And although I fell short of kicking the cat when they lost, I suffered a mild, but fortunately, transient depression; which for me is the mark of a supporter - suffering. In this respect, It's not dissimilar to marriage - for better, for worse; through sickness and health... etc.

Nowadays, although I'm aware of a residual attachment to their fortunes (I always check to see how they're doing) I have better things to do than go watch them, despite their potential for heaping upon me much emotional pain (they're not doing so well of late) and all of the kudos that gives in terms of being a 'true follower'.

It didn't take long to 'shake off' my allegiance. All it required was some modest thinking about the 'reality' of 'supportership'. It didn't stand scrutiny. I realised, In essence, it has all the hallmarks of religious belief, especially in its satisfying the will to belong. But once I gained sight of a more enduring 'self' underneath all of the the inherited cultural clap-trap, including this quasi-religion, I dropped it. Now I realise I'm the final arbiter when it comes to bringing meaning into my life. That what is used to bring that meaning about is not important. It can be done via religion, football, trainspotting, masturbation, strangling animals, or countless other activities.

I have to believe I'm in control of what's important to me. It's scary, but infinitely less so than surrendering to the dubious creed of thinking ultimate meaning resides in something greater than myself.

The Unbearable Bollocks of Being (first published circa 2007)

Wouldn't it be nice if for once, those interminable studies concerning the effects of alcohol consumption concluded that, best of all for the promotion of long life and well-being is the consumption of, west-country murky green rot-gut scrumpy, complete with dubious floaty bits, and possessing a kick like a mule on steroids? How nice would that be? But no, whenever the results are presented, wine, always comes out favourably relative to the rest.

And did you know, it's claimed that plants prefer classical music to all other genres? It's true. According to research, it's the only music to have a significant effect on the subjects, inasmuch as, it's alleged they're inclined to lean in towards the source of the sound. Whoop-de-doo! Conclusive? Hardly. When I'm listening to the radio I often move towards the source, but only to change stations or switch it off if what I'm hearing is not to my liking. And I used to attend classical concerts and not once did I notice myself or other members of the audience stooping forward towards the orchestra. Au contraire, more in evidence was the occurrence of a tilt left or right towards the aisle in readiness for the bar-rush during the interval.

Do you think because science and research is populated in the main by the middle-classes or middle-class aspirants they have the unconscious agenda of validating and elevating their own lifestyle?


Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Imp

Deep inside the self an idea lies,
Submerged it goes unseen, yet holds sway
In subtle and insidious ways
Throughout our lives.

It softly whispers ruinous chatter
of lack of worth, and worse
It tells how undeserving we are of love,
Yet on these wily words we shape our lives.

And then, a time arrives when someone
Shows a path, not known till then,
Of Trust and Care, and takes us where
We’ve never trod before.

But in the face of such elation, this idea cannot survive.
And so it strives to wreck the joining, wresting from us
Our control, instead inflicting accusation,
Spreading discontent until, it takes its toll -

And in its victory-roll that evil elf
Has shown again our worthless self.

Aegean Jive

Flitting from one oceanic idyll to another can be tiresome, in the ho-hum sense. Fact. Tell me, how many days does it take before one gets tired of waking up to a canopy of clear skies and searing sun, floating on a bed of calm warm sea, ranging in colour from deep blue to turquoise? I'd say about seven.

The food was good, even great on occasion; and the people, once understood, passable, and at times, pleasant. But the great moments were those of relative solitude when, ensconced in a quieter part of the deck and accompanied by the sound of the engine thrumming as it powered its way through oncoming waves, I was gently cajoled into pleasant, semi-oblivion. The hull rose, fell, and swayed from starboard to port and then back again; a rhythmic dance; a rock and roll lullaby.

It was good, as Nirvhanas go, though I've known better. Perfection, like all else, is relative (a fact known to poets and those of an artistic bent, though forever hidden from the pedant). I can tell you, at other times, and other places, I've known my soul soar, swoop, and in orgasmic ecstasy, burst into a million pieces... I kid you not, ecstasi* every bleedin' where! But, I digress...

On this voyage I learned something of myself: I can, though not without effort, co-exist "peaceably" within a group and in confined quarters. I think though, I'll give the, "opportunity of a lifetime: a fortnight's self-catering for six in a miniature submarine", a miss.

* Neologism, of a sort.

Monday, 15 November 2010

I love the word "duck", it has such poetic potential

Man-flu. Again. It's the second time in not too many weeks, which is a surprise. Historically, my given ailment, that is, my inherited affliction, is migraine. But due to the inspired hypothesis that caffeine (in inordinate quantities) is a main-player in its manifestation, de-toxing myself has removed the cursed aural displays and sickening "heads", or so it seems. So does this call for an "Hurrah!"? Yes, but alas, only muted, for thus far, I've not had chance to enjoy a sustained period of unbridled good health. The newly-wrought void has been filled by low-level snot, sneezing and chestiness, which have been much in evidence of late, preventing me from resuming my much-trumpeted running come back; it culminated yesterday in a full-blown nasal and throat attack, a cause for manly concern. I awoke this morning convinced I was teetering, at the very least, on the verge of the most savage influenza if not pneumonia! But now, nine hours later, showered and fed, I'm virtually sneeze, wheeze, and mucus free. I feel somewhat sheepish, fraudulent even, for taking the day off.

But time off allows time for reflection; or if not fully-blown deliberation, then at least a time to rustle up words and phrases to be sculpted into quasi-post form. In other words, blind them with bullshit! So, here's my thought for the day: we always have a choice, always. You may think the world is a shitty place, that your life is crummy, unfair, but you can choose to think otherwise. I'll refrain from arguing this, instead I'll give you a visual display, a demonstration of our brains wonderful facility to see the same thing in more than one way. Ladieeees and Genl'men, I'm proud to present... wait for it... the RABBIT/DUCK ILLUSION! (see illustration above)

Once you get to see it both ways, switching back and forth is simply a matter of choice. A simple example granted, but significant, think not you?

Saturday, 6 November 2010


Talking to a friend, I was extolling the virtues and beauty of my latest gadget - the HTC HD Desire smartphone, a more than worthy competitor to the Apple Iphone, sporting High Definition video, an 8 megapixel camera, super-fast processor, and the much feted Android operating system. She replied, "My phone is purple. How cool is that?".


Thursday, 4 November 2010

Night fever

Don't you just hate those nights when, after sleeping deeply for four or five hours, you awaken suddenly, beset by that old existential angst? When that daytime conscious cohesion, holding together all those strands that together constitute your self, is caught unawares, leaving you prey to the horror of self-dissolution? Tsk! Tell me about it! Ooh, it's a bugger! And it's particularly horrific when it manifests itself as a thought inchoate, a primal ill-formed phantom, avoiding recognition yet strangely palpable, lurking in the periphery of your mind; watching. With stomach tightening and breath shortening, your pulse quickens and pounds loudly in your ears, making it a devil of a job to get back to sleep; so there's nothing else for it but to get out of bed and brew a nice strong cup of tea. That usually does the trick!