Thursday, 28 December 2017

Doing Porridge (Oats Not Time)

My first thought this morning was: nothing beats soya milk for incredibly creamy porridge. Okay, so maybe that's a little white lie for it wasn't my first thought, but I can't remember the thoughts before that and breakfast, after all, is the most important meal of the day. And this morning my thoughts between spoonfuls turned to the texture and why soya milk gives oats an extra creaminess other dairy-free milks don't. Or can't.
I don't have the exact answer to that, though I think it might have something to do with added oils or emulsifiers, since in my unscientific experiments I've found that the milks that list them one, take longer to bind, and two, don't result in a porridge with the same consistency as that made with soya. But where's the logic in that? Because surely emulsifiers are meant to do exactly that: bind?
And this early morning thought was just meant to be a lead-in to a more pressing random thought I wished to discuss, yet here I still am formulating the merits of this milk against that to make a good bowl of porridge, stove-made and not microwave with rolled oats. Instant, what pap! Oat bran, no thanks! Scottish, well yes, but a little beyond my means when I do eat rather a lot of it, and why pay a premium when an essential bag does me very nicely. Flavoured, yuck! Artificial or otherwise, I add my own fresh or dried fruits, nuts, seeds etc to give it oomph and get me through to lunch.
I heard or read there are championships, but I think (the last I heard) even they've gone a bit hipster, whereas I'm more purist or artisan i.e. don't mess with it too much and keep it as a breakfast staple, although I could, if the cupboards were otherwise bare or I was impaired in some way, eat it at other times of the day. My brain however might think: what the hell? I don't recall having my usual download time. Besides, a bowl in the morning is satisfying in an entirely different way to say, a bowl for lunch or dinner. I imagine...I've not tried as it goes against my principles, which if you hadn't gathered I'll tell it to you straight: I'm a principled person. Even surprisingly (and it's a surprise to me too) in the making and eating of porridge, which to those of you who don't eat breakfast AT ALL and race out the door must seem a very trivial matter. 
I've been known to get up at 5am just to ensure I have a warming bowl of porridge with a few pages of whatever I'm reading. A wolfed-down biscuit would never suffice - how do you do it? - and what a hideous way to start the day: on a stomach fuelled with a takeaway latte and sugar-laden muffin. It won't get you far, although perhaps a little further than nothing.
I've never before considered porridge in this much rich detail, and I have to say it's quite fascinating (to me at any rate), although those of you who were possibly expecting a critical review on Porridge, the British sitcom first broadcast in the 1970s, must be, I imagine, sorely disappointed. If of course you're still here. You may have exited the site sharpish, having realised that Ronnie Barker (Fletcher) wasn't going to get a look-in, let alone a well-worded paragraph. Well done though if you're a first timer and have stuck it out. To here at least. Please stay to the ending, not that I can say with any certainty that in doing so your life will be enriched in any way. But if you've got the time, then stay.
Because for a good couple of years porridge has been all the rage. Just wander down supermarket aisles. Do prisons still serve it I wonder? P'raps not if it's hip to like it. And if it is spooned on trays then it's unlikely to come with extras, excluding salt or sugar; it will be plain oats, possibly rather thin, in other words sloppy. How miserable mornings must be for prisoners who, like me, like theirs on the thick side, and have found (as Goldilocks found) there is a fine line to getting it just right. If I had the misfortune to be an inmate in any secure establishment where each morning I faced a very poor gruel, either far too thick or far too thin, or too plain, then that on its own would be enough for me to snap: “Right that's it, I'm going straight! Or at the very least I must get a job in the kitchen.”

Picture credit: Porridge, Main Title. Source: Wikipedia

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Tum Te Dum

Nothing happens when you want it to; everything occurs when you don't. The first brings boredom and restlessness, the second cussing, out loud and mostly to whatever four walls you're contained in, unless your 'thing' is to blow up at inanimate objects.
Life is not a game, it's a lesson in patience.
No, not cards, though in youth (and I've been told not just my own) they killed many a bored hour especially if you only had yourself to play against, but forbearance. And that's a far worse word to describe patience, for it can't be mistaken for anything but a delay, a another wait which though it might be short can feel long, or it goes on so long the thing you're waiting for is forgotten so that when it finally occurs it either comes as a surprise or brings dismay.
And when the thing, the event, the person is not just late, it's too late the excitement you might have felt had it arrived on schedule (to your exacting timetable) has diminished as something else came along and took its place; and if that's the case it can set off a whole sequence of emotions, none of which you want but are now beset by and which set you squirming.
However, when the thing is held in thought and much anticipated, its arrival no matter how late is always welcomed. Just as if it's materialised from a dream: you never thought the day would come etc. And yet the journey from order to delivery is a trial, which few have the patience for.
If you've always been a bit short in temper and short with time, then having to exercise a weak, or even non-existent, trait means holding your tongue when it doesn't want to be held; means humming tum te dum when really you want to scream; means feeling under duress but being unable to show it because if you did you'd just look like a child having a tantrum. And God Forbid that should take place in a public space like an auditorium or the lino floor of a frozen food retailer.
The aforementioned weren't just examples but also real incidents which I would like to point out happened when I was a toddler, and toddlers, as most adults know, have short fuses. Some adults do too but most aren't prone to such displays, (I should hope not!) though can behave appallingly at times. Ask my mother. Childhood is never far away when your parents are around, even if the roles have somewhat reversed, where the gap has narrowed to the extent that each family member (senior and junior) regress in each other's company, and yes, it does make for a very confused state of affairs.
That, however, is a family matter I probably shouldn't have shared. But what's done is done. So, let us go back to forbearance, which coincidentally babying or parenting calls for. Rather a lot of too. Huh, that only occurred to me now, and at the same moment as: don't try to type in the dark. My accuracy rate has plummeted. Severely. Backspace. Backspace.
Patience is a virtue. No it's not, it's a goddam nuisance. Something you're told you should have. Or try to encourage if it doesn't come naturally. Well, it's never come organically to me. Discipline, yes; I can withhold myself from anything even if I don't really want to but have made up my mind to, although others I know label that as 'stubborn', so yes, I guess you can say I'm that too. You never can see (or will admit to readily) these qualities in yourself, though you might be quick to see them in somebody else. Of course, there are those who will be kinder and will call these idiosyncrasies, as if they're endearing. Some are, some are mildly irritating, some are infuriating and raise more than tuts and eye-rolls as your tolerance reaches its upper limit.
It's how quickly you lose it that's interesting...great sitcom moments would be born if you were stood outside your own body. For your annoyance can be directed at you with no other involved: nobody else in the room but a ball of fire manically humming tum te dum, tum te dum, dum, dum, the hope this will instead reduce you to a bed of orange-red embers.

Picture credit: The Banquet, 1958, Rene Magritte

Thursday, 14 December 2017

The Cold Eyes of Octopi

They're wonderful animals, delicate, complicated and shy.” so says Doc in John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday. Now, you might think, if you were unaware of the context, he's talking of women, but no, Doc is referring to octopi, which being a science enthusiast (as was Steinbeck) it was not, I think, an attempt to discuss women in veiled terms. However, as the reader, it struck me that such a description could also be applied to roughly half the female population, by the male sex, because I think women would be less likely to say it of themselves, though it would be a rather antiquated view.
I, however, would put up my hand and say it's true, of myself anyway, and only in regard to the complicated and shy. I wouldn't have a problem with it, yet it would fall short to say it of all women. Yet I'm confusing the matter because let's be clear Steinbeck doesn't. It just got me thinking, particularly since we now live in a very politically-correct world, and where free speech and sensitivity are at all time high. Censorship is not, I think, very far away. And what a sad day that will be, and all because people can't police themselves in public forums and mistake free speech for abuse; or think that once-used terms, now considered 'offensive', should be banned from thought, from speech, from print. Each year we inch that bit closer to George Orwell's 1984, and to a repeat of history. That is, however, what living is: repeats. Similar circumstances coming round...
Different times, but people, fundamentally, are the same; react to situations as they might have done in other eras – with or against, in the middle, rise up against a dictator or follow his lead, refuse to be conquered or admit defeat and give victory to the conqueror. You don't realise history is being made nor realise the part you played until you look back on it. The pivotal moment only spotted after; often a long time after when historians have some hard facts and can piece it together: this piece fits here, that piece slots in there. If that hadn't happened or because of that etc. I wonder how these times, in time, will be considered, or we as a people.
No, you need a cold eye for history, not a dispassionate one, but an eye that's not too close to it, not going through it, because there will be propaganda you might not see clearly whilst in its throes. Like fake news, which once that term was brought out nearly everything was declared to be, because whatever suits purposes people use. And it's so easy for establishments and people in positions of power, or wanting to be, to wrest control of and, in some way, gain from.
Too much distance though can change history. The interpretation of it, which in my opinion, is dangerous, particularly if it's less given to understanding and more to condemning or rewriting to make it more or less acceptable. This can also change the views of the people who were in it, if they're still living. Societal attitudes can make people agree: Yes, that's how it was, because the actual experience can be a fog. A pea-souper where action and thinking are somehow not recorded as they would have been had life been quieter. Or they can recede, not forgotten but less vivid, and so doubts of how it was creep in. But I've said all this before elsewhere as it's a personal bugbear, so won't go on.
No movement or attitude that grew from another time, and is still around, is what it once was or set out to be. Feminism's not, the EU's certainly not, and student unions are a product of young minds, which, too often, are overly concerned with contemporary life and how they're seen so they ban or boycott everything and anything that goes against their values, often without giving the subject a fair hearing. How can you learn if all your energies are thrown instead into protesting? How would we get anywhere if we didn't stop to listen and consider? Outspokenness or rebellion doesn't breed tolerance; it can even lead to the opposite.
But then, how exactly did this internalized (and now publicized) debate develop from a sentence about octopi? Because as animals they divide opinion: fascinate and repel.

Picture credit: Octopus Biology, Ernst Haeckel

Thursday, 7 December 2017

C'mon On Feet

Everyone needs a day, a whole day, at home. Sometimes. Or maybe weekly. For reasons best known to that person: to unwind from a week of hell, to clear domestic build-up and bills, to wear indoor clothes and go make-up or contact lens free and have bed-hair, to get creative in the kitchen or read without interruptions, and probably most of all to have peace and quiet, or at least a tolerable volume of background noise. Though the last is not easy to achieve if only walls separate you from adjoining flats' washing machines, music systems and TVs. It's true, a noise not caused by you can be distressing, but outside the building there's the perpetrators: people. Hundreds, thousands, millions of them. The scale doesn't really matter if they constitute what you think of as a crowd.
Why the sudden interest in people going about their business or congregating in public places? Because I learned a new word whilst I was in Highsmith Country, Suffolk to be exact, which I hadn't heard or seen before: Ochlophobe. But before I explain that, I should mention it's not a Suffolk term nor is it Highsmithian, and that's Patricia Highsmith, the novelist and crime writer, whose country I was revisiting at the time. No, it's a recognised fear, which of course Highsmith specialises in, of mob-like crowds. And I got to wondering, after a day spent at home, if I had it. Or at the very least some shadow of that fear.
Is there a range? I'll assume there is because I don't know anybody expert enough to ask, not that I want to denigrate what is for somebody else a real concern. It's just sometimes after a whole day at home, it's harder to go out the following, but I don't think that's ochlophobe territory though the push to confront it is probably similar. There have been moments where I've been dressed and ready and at the door when I've thought: do I really want to? do I really need to? can it wait, be put off to the next?, and if the answer to the last is: it can, then occasionally I've given in. Whilst other times I've shaken it off, telling myself: C'mon on feet, which those in the know will recognise as a Labyrinth line. Google it – the late David Bowie was fantastic – as I can't afford the detour in this semi-serious autobiographical piece.
So, on those days when I stop in what is it that, ahem, stops me? I suddenly realise I'm not in the mood to be around Joe Public and it's a mood that will vanish, as others do, if I force myself out. Whereas the passing-through mood is like a scudding cloud i.e. by the time I'm out in the open it will have gone. Of course, there are days when you don't have that luxury, where you just have to cross your fingers and hope for the best.
Mood aside, I generally prefer to avoid crowds, but then I think that preference depends on your definition of mob: how large they are in number and if, for example, they're well mannered, rather than boisterous or braying. For a true ochlophobist, my guess is that wouldn't matter, the same symptoms of fear would arise. For me however, some situations are cope-able and some decidedly not, and then there are those you're unsure of and have to try. And keep trying, if only to raise the bar a little.
I hate feeling crammed in, squeezed or squashed. Of being pressed up against somebody, of having someone pressed up against me. The two scenarios aren't the same: the first can't be helped for there's hardly any breathing room, let alone a space for a body, and the second, when you're not the presser, feels like a deliberate invasion. Your instinct is to fidget and find a pocket but you can't, and so you reverse that attitude: go rigid and hold everything in. Does anybody find that enjoyable? Well, the perverse might do...those who like commutes, sporting events, sales or ticketing queues , and protest marches (you thought I meant something else, didn't you?) and yet, I don't really think that's an ochlophobist complaint, at least not in the manner I've described it: as dislikeable but not panicked like any animal caught or caged.
The eyes have it, that fear of bodies if escape is impossible and the feet can't break into a quick walk or run, though a sweat might come with the heart pulsating, fooled by twitching muscles.

Picture credit:The Umbrellas, Pierre Auguste Renoir

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Small World

Small world we live in. That's the kind of remark you get when you run into an acquaintance somewhere unexpected or you find you know someone or have some place in common, but what if your world was that small. Not like Alice's after she's drunk the 'Drink Me' potion or a Borrower's but small as in closeted.
Your height stays the same, with a little give and take mornings and evenings, and your furniture stays the same scale, neither seeming too big or too small and remaining comfortable, but overnight something has affected one of your senses and so your world shrinks to a bubble, much like a snow globe or a Fortune Teller's crystal ball except everything, including you, is life-size, just contained. A circular force field that suddenly surrounds you and wherever you move to, and prevents you from normal interaction as the sound is not surround only partial.
You can hear yourself chew; you can hear thoughts being formed, but the world you live in sounds strange, as if a helium balloon, filled to capacity, has somehow got inside your eardrum, but finding it a tight fit begs to be popped with a knitting needle. However, there's no way you can get at it to relieve that pressure and it's too new to deflate, so you'll both have to sit it out.
Reduce all contact with people, as well as activities where hearing is necessary, unless the volume can be increased or your comprehensiveness doesn't need to be demonstrated and so your muffled participation won't affect the outcome. The same result will be achieved, though less enjoyed.
Any information supplied may be processed differently too. You might be unable to make out everything said, or indeed anything said, and veer off topic, without realising your blunder; your brain being quick to fill in the blanks, and only getting it right some of the time. Your responses might be curt or given in a louder pitch because you simply cannot hear what you're saying or even the tone you're saying it in, so that then you worry you're unintentionally shouting or causing offence. In most circumstances, you're not and you won't be, though you might imagine strange looks being passed.
Why hearing should affect how you read and respond to another's body language I've no idea, but it does if the condition's come on suddenly, as if the other senses haven't had time to learn how to compensate for this impairment. Like somebody whose far from fit expecting their body to adapt to strenuous exercise from the off: you want the back-up systems to kick in instantly. They do, but it's not smooth as these sensory perceptions are untrained and unused to the extra effort, just like muscles hidden under flab.
Compensations are tiring and mess with your brain. And did I mention they can make you emotional for very silly reasons. Anything that comes on top of and unrelated can set you off, because it feels like too much to contend with, in spite of you retreating to your shell. Which I know is ironic, seeing as the ear so closely resembles the homes of snails and crabs. I wonder if like a hermit crab I might find a replacement, because even they have adapted to tin cans where tourists have taken the larger shells as souvenirs. If only a interim solution was available, but at least I have the feeling this is temporary, not permanent.
You get weird thoughts with the loss of hearing in one ear. You can't not think, but your thinking is a little squiffy: sentences take more time to form and you trip over seemingly harmless words when trying to speak them. On the telephone, voices are tinny as if the calls are long-distance or the caller is holding the receiver at arm's length. And voices as if from beyond are disconcerting. But if you do happen to go out, then it's hard to hear anything: any bicycle, jogger or push-chair coming up behind or alongside you, and all passing traffic is a Whoosh! of surprise, which believe me can lead to some hairy moments.
The loss of any sense, altogether or partial, makes you feel and leaves you vulnerable because it's not always something others can see, or, if not experienced, comprehend. A small world is not a more forgiving one.

Picture credit: Conch Shell,  Fine Art America.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

A Patch of Green

Other people lead such interesting lives. Sometimes I think, and it has been pointed out also, that maybe I had my one shot and I decided not to pursue it. Is that it then? I get one chance whilst others get many more. Notch up more than one significant other and a handful of kids; legally assume different surnames and gain in-and-ex-laws. True, I didn't want that. I always thought I'd have a career and would ultimately choose that over partnership of any kind. Well, the career never materialised and I don't think it will in later life, so all that remains is this single unit in a one-bedroomed apartment, in the centre of town, whereas once I had a sniff of a more permanent tie. And it was just a sniff, but still it could have gone either way I suppose if we'd communicated better. If...for so many incommunicable reasons which had they been voiced he wouldn't have understood anyway. Probably. The split was mutual, so he said, but I broke it off, and so that doubt has always stayed because I was a cow to do it on Valentine's Day. And by phone.
I know, what a day to do it on and what a way to do it. I've felt a mild guilt about it ever since and it was years ago, and I mean years – almost nine years, just one year short of a decade, though I'm sure you can all do the maths without me typing it out.
He's not the one that got away or that I let go. No, it's not like that. Because it didn't last long enough. But I think it was a turning point or a crossroads, or something, because I distinctly remember seeing a life, there for the taking, flashing before my eyes and, at the same time, feeling my individuality was being threatened. I knew exactly how it would unfold if I allowed myself to go down that path.
Maybe, that's what you have to go through to get to somewhere different. Duh. Yeah, the path I get, but not the feeling of Whoa, this is too much! and wondering where in all this I actually was. So I strayed back to the grass where there was a sign which said 'Keep Off', and that's where I've stayed, keeping others away. Not, however, through stubbornness and now habit, well, maybe just a little, but largely so I can live uncensored. I wouldn't if there was another sharing the same living space. If I felt watched. Because then the shoulders would always be tight and the back tensed, and the mind wouldn't settle to anything. Reading, my one true love, would be curtailed, and attention given over to other arrangements or trivial matters. Worrying for two, or more and not one.
Perhaps I'm wrong. Certainly my own grandparents and parents managed, and stayed contentedly married in spite of any differences in their characters. Or maybe, they went through an alteration and made the best of it. Compromised. Perhaps, the problem is I'm just too unyielding...though I think it's more to do with ownership: of myself. Because I've never got beyond that phase of what's going on here? where your thoughts get a little screwy and your usual person gets imprisoned i.e. you react differently in order to please whilst inside you're thinking: what? why am I doing this? who is this person? It freaks me out. There's nothing silly-grin-happy about it, not that I can see. Because although I have my faults I like me. At home anyway.
This is my place, where I don't have to be vigilant, well, not about my person, because, yes, I am that self-aware amongst others, where I try hard to present as 'normal' and not as strange. It's gruelling putting on that kind of act. If there was no respite from everything and everyone, if I couldn't control who or what had access, for how long for and when, if at all, I'd cross that border to lunacy. And so a certain distance would be a requirement if partnered up.
There's that if again. Because I think if you've always been insular and perfectly content to forego a closer level of intimacy to safeguard that privacy then attempts to go against the grain are a mental and emotional strain. Unless, of course, you're either very wilful or lucky, and can put those self-medicating comforts aside. It's a big ask.
So, if you can't, should everything else, including you, fall by the wayside? Well, no, why should it? and yet, here I still sit on this same patch of green, concerned just not enough to flag passing cars.

Picture credit: Reverie, 1890, Robert Lewis Reid

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Lazy Sweets

Call me old-fashioned, though you don't actually need to now for I've saved you the task, and here comes the but, BUT what is happening to us as a nation? I don't know about anywhere else as I don't travel very far from my own front door (I don't have a back yard, or a balcony, or a box window where I could grow my own herbs) but, and it's not my imagination, some of us are goddamn lazy. Or getting increasingly and ludicrously so. And I think it's shameful.
I'm still somebody that goes out to the shops with a list of what I need for the week ahead. I walk there and back, returning weighed down with packed bags, the contents of which might have come from more than one store. I don't mean to make myself sound like a martyr because I think nothing of it: it's how I've always done things and known them to be done, and I do shop online, just not for food, nor items I can easily acquire through traipsing the local high street or shopping centre.
What really gets my goat (pardon the expression. Where does it come from anyway?), is the on-demand services. Note the following real-life examples: Person V fancies a yoghurt but doesn't have any in and so pays for a banana-flavoured pot to be taxied to her; Person X needs deodorant but instead of visiting the local pharmacy orders online (thank you radio commentator Jeremy Vine!) for a white van man to bring that item, that solitary item, to him; and Persons Y & Z want a fish and chip supper, but even though there's a shop across the road they place their order over the phone and get it hand-delivered. It's all nonsense!
Nobody is that time-poor! Yet more and more of us are becoming precious about getting our individual (and largely non-essential) needs met. What do I care if someone chooses to fritter their money away in this manner? I don't per se , but I do question what it says about us as a society: about our high expectations and lack of self-management, not to mention discipline. What exactly are we freeing up this time for? To sit in front of a box set, to check our Twitter feed, to upload selfies, and generally loaf. And why is it suddenly so difficult to a) get ourselves organised as in plan ahead and stick to it, and b) delay our gratification? How would we, the generations born long after the Second World War, cope in times of rationing should they come again? If suddenly one day all these add-ons got taken away?
Perhaps that's the issue, we've gone too far the other way. We have too much choice and too many firms willing to cater to our increasing demands which forces others to offer the same. And then there's our attitudinal change which is, to be blunt: I want what I want when I want it, and I'll get it too, that pressurizes and drives this supply model.
It's almost communistic in style, except instead of workers walking out on their owner-bosses and preventing trade, consumers are making trade by demanding zero hour workers save them more time and physical effort; both of which, you have to admit, have already been greatly improved by modern contraptions. Aren't we pushing it a bit wanting and expecting more? Because more labour and energy-saving devices is not necessarily good. Haven't we already seen proof of that, with us as the evidence, living as we now do against the clock? And what about skills? Okay, you might be able to code (I can't do that!), but can you cook from scratch? More to the point, can you use a tin-opener? Not all have ring-pulls and even if they do some of those fail.
Yes, I'm being facetious, but where's the satisfaction in these convenience measures? Where's the real gratification in any of it? It's too instantaneous. And none of it, by the way, saves time. You could walk to the shops and back in the time it takes you to shop online, or whip up a meal that's ready before your takeaway, ordered forty-five minutes ago, gets delivered.
What it amounts to is: minimal effort for a reward which won't keep on giving, because from the beginning you haven't been fully engaged with the process of acquiring that item. In a sense, it's meaningless; if it wasn't, you wouldn't immediately search for another gratifying hit elsewhere.

Picture credit: Tempting Sweet, 1924, Robert Lewis Reid

Thursday, 9 November 2017

The School of Hard Knocks

When I overhear people talk of dreams I think they mean of the sleeping kind. You know, the type where the mind that runs your waking life is taking a well-earned snooze, so that everything that has happened or is about to happen gets mashed together to produce a moving montage which you'll either watch from afar like a paying customer at a picture show or be the lead in, although at times you'll question it's you for this person doesn't act or look like you, and so, depending whether this version of you or the dream itself is good or bad, you might try to wake earlier than the running time or drag it out until the credits roll.
Pulling a dream back to you never seems to work once you've semi-woken. So frustrating! when you try and can't, particularly if for some reason your sleep was disturbed. And good dreams, it seems, can't be relived like a film. They play differently as if you've been given, without your conscious knowledge, a choice of beginnings, middles and endings, where none you've selected are exactly the same as before which means you never again get to star in or view the very edit you want. That cut becomes a ghostly memory, then scene shots and stills, until even those fade to be replaced by other night dreams.
But whilst these are the sorts of dreams that interest me, they're not the dreams people speak of. Daily. To friends, to family, in workplaces, in schools, in the general domain of space: public or cyber. Though there are a few who instead choose to harbour a long-held idea or ambition within the walls of their chest or a locked chamber, in the mind or a physical dwelling which only they know of or use. Some hold both types of dreams: those 'safe' to utter (and stand by) in public, and those which are thought best to stay hidden.
Dreams made public are made so in a manner much like a town crier, as if a hand-bell is rung and a booming voice makes the announcement: Einstein to explore time! A poor example because I'm sure, though I can't be certain, his idea was never announced like that or at all before his theory of relativity was developed. Nowadays however, such an public declaration would be likely made before the deed is done. Or even planned. Because to put it simply: airtime equals sponsorship, support and motivation. Sometimes, globally. From far-flung peoples and places, so that essentially as the ball's now rolling...and have to try to follow through. Perhaps even die in your attempts to. The pressure to exceed at something you said you were going to do can make you do crazy things, instead of more sensibly backing down. But that is a whole other type of fish, a euphemism that Einstein would doubtless agree with.
Because what we all want, or are being told we must have is a richer experience. And to do that we must make all our dreams come alive. We must believe in ourselves and in their potential, which isn't in itself a bad idea if it was just used as a way to boost our self-confidence and creativity, but it doesn't stop there because these dreams have to be reached and crossed off. Call me a cynic or a pessimist, but in being so public we've created loopholes which, no surprises here, organisations are taking advantage of. The banking industry, for instance, promotes realising your dreams so they can lend you money, and take more off you in the process. Often, we think it's win-win, but is it? Dreams aren't that simple. For them to really succeed you also need a business-minded head and not just a visionary brain. And well, sometimes we're over-ambitious, which means you can fail to see the drawbacks or the pitfalls. It's good to have goals, but have goals that are attainable, or maybe set more modest steps to the bigger picture.
Life has many hard lessons and one of them is that dreams of this nature rarely come true nor are they, I think, meant to. Quiet dreams, although less mentioned and striven for, have a different power, whereby they still inspire but don't need to materialise, for their power lies in their ethereal form. A dream possessed only in thought is more than enough for some people.
It's always there, unrealised, acting as a companion to disappointments and making dark days brighter, as well as helping you (in self-help speak) to be the 'Best You' your capabilities will allow. Actualised, a dream may not be all you hoped and from that you may never recover.

Picture credit: Albert Einstein (motivational poster)

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Play Children, Play

Have you ever wanted to walk out? Just stand up and walk out of a room, not looking back, push through a door and slam it or let it swing to violently; out of a workplace because if you don't the caged animal in you might scream the place down; out of life, the one you're presently living, to start afresh elsewhere. In a new town or city where nobody knows your face or name or anything about you. Where everything will be untouched, and clean and shiny, and where the only thing you haven't fled is yourself.
Therein lies the omitted problem: it's mostly You. And that, no matter what you walk or run from, you can't escape. Ever. Not even death, in my opinion, allows you to do that. The game reset starts over but with those same challenges, though the You you were might look very different to the You you were before, but then you won't remember that, unless the walls between these worlds have crumbled, but then what would be the point in returning in a different guise?
To live forever would have drawbacks, don't you think? Imagine: the boredom of being the same person! I'm bored with me now! and at the very least I have another 30 years if I avoid freak accidents and health complications. Some of you, I guess, might welcome eternal life if you cling to the person you are currently. However it still seems a bit advanced, scientifically and spiritually, if you ask me. And there still might be the loss of youth and vitality because progress in these areas is piecemeal. Ha! is what I want to say to those who want to age but don't want to age if you know what I mean. The internal workings might be in better order but your outward appearance might still alter. Slowed down, marginally. With more time, things will still slip and slide. Eventually.
Make your choice: good health and cognitive function or beauty. Is that choice really so hard? Maybe it is for aesthetically-pleasing people? Then, perhaps you've made yourself into one of those sculpted beauties; everything that could be done has been done. If that's the case, I don't know what to say for I have no idea, nor does science, how these make-over procedures will age. Again, time, and rather more of it, will tell those tales and trot them out for the world to see either as pin-ups or horror stories.
Man, (as in human rather than getting ourselves in a tangle over stereotypical behaviour or gender identification), likes to tinker. Think: evenings and weekends spent under the bonnet of a car or repairing some appliance so that's it's as good as new or even better. We like to improve things, be it our cars, homes or our bodies, and yet we don't seem to know when to stop. When instead of making the best of whatever we've got, we end up papering over the already re-papered cracks. When it comes to our ageing bodies some of us go to extremes, even trying too hard to make it look like they're not when they have, they are. Everything, at the end of the day, is a temporary fix, even if you've taken drastic measures to get there. As in, if you adhere to my belief, we're all going to die someday, though you can die and still be living.
Huh? Oh yes, we all experience 'little deaths': changing schools and jobs, moving house, leaving childhood to enter adolescence, then transitioning from that to adulthood, dealing with blossoming and fading looks, and illnesses that might bring physical and emotional changes, throughout our lifetimes. What do they indicate? The end of a significant period. Period.
Oh, why can't we work through, deal with these losses? Embrace it, rather than actively prevent or fight against it. No, I don't know the answer, because I've had my own struggles, but I do know that the dilemmas we often concoct are psychological. And the weight we give to them is damaging, and not just superficially either.
Wouldn't it be easier if we could just tinker with our lives, as writers do with plots, so that we wouldn't have the stress of the (perceived) consequences of doing something or other or the logistical nightmares? View it without having to actually live it instead of taking irreversible action that we later regret or cry over. God, however, in his infinite wisdom would probably say: Play children, play.

Picture credit: The Luncheon of the Boating Party, Pierre Auguste Renoir

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Wash Day

Lately (you may have noticed) I've given up attempting to write fiction, at least in any of its recognisable forms, and by that I mean: do not classify these articles as non-fiction, for all they do is voice ideas – sometimes mine, sometimes others – as well as all those questions we cannot put to or ask each other. What I write, what you read is not necessarily an autobiographical me, although I'm not about to make it easier for you and tell you what is me and what isn't. Hell, I'm not sure I even know!
Never assume anything in this life for we're all one big bundle of contradictions. We contradict ourselves sometimes without even realising, until someone calls us out. Tries to make it into a big deal. When it's not, really. You can change your stance on issues as the years drift by. Principles don't always stay principles forever. An experience might alter your outlook, widen or narrow your perspective from what it was.
Anyway, that last paragraph is not the point, it's beside the point, particularly the last part because isn't that what fiction is all about? Isn't that what invented characters or plots enable us to do? Broaden our horizons if they're limited, and consider those horizons from an angle that may not have occurred to us had we been left to our own devices.
See, I've done it again! Strayed, like a bullet that wilfully misses its target, which is why I'd be no good with a plot. And even more hopeless devising believable three-dimensional characters that you only read and rifle through as you might do someone's sock drawer. Do people still have sock drawers? I do, but then I'm not a reliable example when I'm down with the olds. In favour of any-old-thing rather than new-modern. On principle or because I hate being forced? More the latter, I think. I'll succumb when I absolutely have to and not before, kicking and screaming probably as I used to do as a toddler on supermarket floors. Bejam, I think it was. None of which has anything to do with sock drawers.
Why can't I stick to the topic? And I thought I was square. A square person would stick to cold hard facts and produce a tidy report. All bases covered and no fluff. Or extra padding like those God-damn awful insert-able, removable shoulder pads in the 80s, which having been permanently removed can be found in brassieres to cushion and provide enhancement to gals who are told they fall short in that department. Next there'll be derrière pads (if I haven't missed the advent of those already!) to give that coveted Beyonce butt, though personally I think Kylie still has it.
All in all, thank God a dry and to-the-point report wasn't a goal because this would surely be marked with an F, or even, God forbid, a U.
Now, who's this? Someone's just poked her head round the door and asked if I want a cuppa. Nope, don't know her. She has a wipe-clean pinny on and has come armed with a pink feather duster. Lethal she is with it too as she dances it around the room and over picture frames. This is going to be one Supergran clean where nothing is moved out of place, just dabbed around, or poked as she's doing now to this keyboard, swatting at it as if it were a fat, juicy fly, unmindful of the fact that I'm having to both screen (for my own safety) and avert my eyes as my article gets a new paragraph, primarily of gobbledygook, inserted. Luckily, she somehow manages to end with a punctuated flourish by hitting Delete successively like she's decided this isn't the time or the place to air her linen; none of which I imagine is grey and holey like some of mine. She looks like the type of woman that might still scrub it by hand on wash day, unless she too has caught on to the miracle that is Vanish! And just like that, said in my best Tommy Cooper-ish voice, she's gone! Well, that didn't last long, just long enough to have destroyed any hope of this being a serious piece.
I don't remember employing a char-woman...? What a distraction she caused flouncing in when I thought I was finally getting somewhere, not of course to where I'd intended to take you, but this writer really can't afford to be too choosy. My advice: run with and not against figments of the imagination, even if whatever it is seems inappropriate, implausible or ridiculous for they may not wash up ever again, or in quite the same workable form.

Picture credit: Wash Day, 1945, Grandma Moses (Anna Mary Robertson Moses)

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Keep It Small, Girl

Often, it seems everyone else has so much life – to live, to give – whereas I lack that vital spark. Obviously, my body keeps to its own regular rhythm like the tick-tock of a wall or bedside clock and my heart beats, somewhat silently, but beating all the same like a slow winged creature, of the sort a natural world documentary deliberately puts in slow motion so that we, the viewers, appreciate the sweep and curve of its feathers. It looks so effortless, just like our own autonomic functions which only trip up when we fail to care for them properly or focus on them to such a degree that they jump out of sequence. Flutter and miss their timed spot.
That slot when I could have done something, anything, I feel has gone. And I say that personally, because friends that are older (and much wiser) than me are still doing what I consider real living. Heading out there and giving things a go. Holidaying alone or dating. Participating in supposedly what life is all about, in all the life there is on offer. Some get those kind of kicks through or from work. Once I guess I did too, when the spirit hadn't left me or I felt this was what you had to do to get on, but that now feels like another lifetime. A different person did that.
And although I'm not unhappy or discontent, those comparisons always start. You think you'd reach an age where you'd be beyond that, and mostly I have as I certainly care less about how I look and dress, though I think a date would be mortified should I suddenly decide to re-enter that playing field, yet still these feelings of inadequacy creep in when you least expect them.
I know I've let things slide and removed myself from scenes that no longer held my interest to return to my core: that firm point of being I'd denied or temporarily forgotten about, but now there's very few pursuits I enjoy which require another. That suits me, in the sense that I like my own, often quiet, company, and yet, frequently I'm reminded of the disadvantages. By others, though not of course with any intent, just in passing. What others do is fascinating; sometimes there's common ground as mostly as a species we associate with those that are similar, but then there's also those dissimilarities which occur due to age, experience, taste or differences in character. I like hearing of these exploits, thinking I could never do that, be that bold, but it does leave me feeling, an hour or two later, somewhat lacking.
Why doesn't it motivate or inspire? It can, but the sensation is so fleeting that it's gone before it can be acted upon, largely because dreaming up a plan and then putting it into action are two very separate things. A plan can take months to materialise and by then I will have lost that buoyant energy or nerve, so that what will likely come to pass will rarely be the happy event I envisioned. Also, I know deep-down, though I might be reluctant to admit it, I'm not that person, even if I thought I was or fooled people that I was at one time.
I feel more true, and yet my quietude keeps me somewhat contained, either to my flat and my books or to brief exchanges in the street, in shops, and in the library which can leave me feeling awkward if the question is asked, as it always is: what have you been up to? Whereby I fumbled around as if someone's suddenly turned out the light or a bulb has blown, and try to switch the conversation back around to the enquirer who obviously has much more to say. I'm sure some mistake this as secrecy; the case, however, is usually that my world is unchanged since I saw them last. I haven't been anywhere nor do I have anything planned. Nothing exciting has happened. And if anything untoward has I'm less likely to report it, unless our friendship is in that zone where nothing needs to be withheld or censored.
I never, however, mention my inadequacies. Why I'm doing so here has perplexed even me? But then this is just one-sided talking, as well as, possibly, an attempt to understand why I analyse myself in the way that I do (not that I ever get very far) and hold myself up against everyone I come into contact with too! How can I be enough for anyone else if I'm not enough for me out in that big, wide, baffling, and over-exhilarating world?

Picture credit: Woman With a Fan, 1919, Amedeo Modigliani, stolen from Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Plenty Lettuce

In 2016 when the baby-boomer generation became the scapegoats for everything, my plea seemed to fall on deaf ears, and I'm not sure that ten months on it will be heard now.
I never have and will not hitch myself to this bandwagon, though I think the horses long ago galloped off with the cart. And it was, I recall, a rather full and crowded cart with more people climbing up and hanging on to its sides since the space inside was already taken, so that when the horses, nervy with the increasing weight, decided to bolt their passengers squealed with joy and failed to recognise their lives might be imperilled. One of the horses was even lassoed but it being frightfully strong then took a string of men with it, its mane flying and hooves pounding the dirt with its man-made kite-like tail trailing and bobbing before most were shook off and left face-down eating mud.
Those that were sore, yet uninjured curse and spat; a few others sat up dazed and tried to make out in the distance which dots were the horses and which the cart with its heavy cargo. Those that were wounded could do little but admit defeat and stay where they were: lying face-down and occasionally moan.
I don't know what happened to any of those cursing, dazed or defeated men, or if all the cart's cargo, or even the cart, made it, but I do know that those horses slowed; at some point calmed their racing hearts, munched on some grass and took water on in a less dry valley.
These horses, whom we shall call Plenty and Lettuce though they've had many names since, were frequently during 2016 captured and trotted out, and although they had been paraded numerous times before, these occasions were different. It was more usual for stones to be thrown instead of words of admiration. They weren't wanted and were an unwelcome sight in the show ring where they would go for a song. Old nags, it was said with mutters and shakes of the head, which by the looks of them should be put out to pasture, and yet because they provoked talk they never went unsold, though it was usual for the two to end up at another cattle auction in their not-too-distant future.
Folks didn't know how to treat them, the world being what it was. There was no respect for the spent, despite the work they had put in in preceding years. Their very first owner, an English man who liked American slang, having bought them when he was flush had registered them under the above given names: Plenty and Lettuce, for he was proud that he'd achieved so much when he never thought it would be possible for someone like him, not realising that by doing so they would come to symbolise everything that is apparently wrong with every single socio-economic system. But he was long gone by the time that revision had come about: sold up, moved on, to then age on an nest egg he'd been canny enough to invest and save.
And that, according to (mostly) younger generations, as well as media and political pundits, is a problem, one of many, which they say comes from having had it so good. These horses, I think, would be less likely to agree, for all they did was run the race that was marked on their card: the 3:30 at Cheltenham. It was luck. Things were on the 'up' and the State were more helpful. And now having lived well, as a millennial might proclaim, they've been footing the blame for our stretched resources: in healthcare, the housing market, and even overcrowding in prisons.
It's unjust, and it's disrespectful. All of us are products of our time, which means some of us benefit, some of us don't. Each generation, no matter where they fall in the scheme of things, has their own ills to contend with, individual and societal, which have an impact on how a country's then run and the provision of services. In other words, we all add to the pot as well as take away, whereas blame just shifts responsibility and delays positive action. I say cut the baby-boomers some slack because their only crime, as I see it, is to have lived as any other generation would have done had they been in their position.

* Plenty lettuce: American slang for plenty of money.

Picture credit: A Day in the Country, Victorian print, 1877

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Mule It Over

John Steinbeck, the American novelist and short storyteller, said events had to ferment before being written down. I understand exactly where he was coming from, though I've just had to correct myself on my choice of words. A fair number of his works are so fresh in my mind I forget he passed from this world, having written about and searched America, twelve years prior to my birth. I wasn't even an possibility then as my parents I don't think had met, or if they had it they were very young and the relationship was very new. It was still a good few years before they sailed to Australia and then returned to settle down to a more conventional living.
Steinbeck: his words and his America are as alive (and relevant) to me today as when they were first written, although of course in reality some areas as Steinbeck knew them don't exist whereas I now do. I won't ever in actuality see what he saw in his lifetime, not if I travelled to and across present-day America. My experiences would be different and far removed from his fiction or a painting by Hopper. I won't get the America of my old-fashioned dreams: the good and backward, but then neither did Steinbeck when he took a road trip in 1960, though his purpose was largely observational, more sociological, than a recapturing of youth or time. If he was disappointed (and there are subtle and obvious hints of that in Travels with Charley), he nonetheless tempered any real vehemence he felt about progress, and lack of, in the resultant account of his journey.
If I set out to find any of Steinbeck's America, from his early or later works, from rainy England, I'd too might be sore when the materialisation proved very different to what I had pictured through reading American novelists, even though I might have prepared myself for that inescapable fact, known that that America was a distant memory. The uninitiated can't visually magic up something that's long gone, and I also don't know if I could be as open and as generous as Steinbeck was to 1960 America to America in the 21st century. Though of course, I've seen some States, very little of but some, and yes, those small trips are filled with an emotion I won't soon forget, particularly one when I was like him a lone traveller, and yet in memory it still has a somewhat touristy vibe. Maybe true openness to change or the willingness to accept only occurs when it's your own country and your own peoples, when it's not somewhere, thousands of miles away, built up in your over-exercised imagination on a stereotypical scale as high as the Empire State building or as gaudy as Trump Tower.
A road trip of England's regions would be perhaps more comparable to Steinbeck's American travels and tales, because observationally I'd already be an insider. Some sights would be new and attitudes would vary, but they wouldn't be entirely foreign. Being of the country, if not of the county, I'd hold a common insight that would communicate itself to whomever I might come across. This was true in Steinbeck's journeying, which meant, as he documented, that people were more likely to speak or often assistance to an out-of-towner when it was required. I sincerely hope that would also be the case if I chose to go in search of the United Kingdom, but like Steinbeck I might wait until I'm well into my fifties to attempt it, as well as able to hire a driver and borrow a four-legged companion.
I'm sure, however, that I would find taciturn individuals for the English too can be a tight-lipped bunch until they've got your measure. Also, that what I might see may not be a true picture, representational of the region I so happened to be in, for that too would depend on my views and the attitudes of the people I'd meet on a given day. Some places, as Steinbeck said (to paraphrase) of the South, will stay troubled with people caught in a jam, and sometimes there's very little you can personally do for a change in attitude demands patience, which I like to call the 'drip effect', though you can of course record your experience and the impressions it made upon you, whatever they might be.
At the end, Steinbeck , his feet relieved of their itch, comes home again, as most travellers do at some point, and yet with a lot, as a friend of his might have said, to 'mule' over, which I've found I've also done with the close of this delightful book.

Picture credit: San Pablo, 1610-1614, El Greco

Thursday, 28 September 2017


Hemingway is described as having a spare style. And it's true that although his novels and stories flow, it is with simplicity. His descriptions rich with imagery in language that has none of the complexity that other authors might interject. His dialogue repetitive, the story not slowed or hastened because it's just an encounter, a passing, and yet without it, it wouldn't be Hemingway.
Each time you visit, or revisit, his writing, the tone and style of these conversations strikes you as juvenile but also how real they are to those that occur naturally in life. We do in actual fact talk like that: echo back what another's said as a question or phrase it differently, respond to confirm we're listening, and comment upon past or forthcoming events made reference to, adding our own concurrence or variance on the matter. We conceal what we don't want known and divulge all that we do, in spite of subtle clues we inadvertently give which are telling.
Our topics of conversation and the small talk we engage in might be different now, but it's still delivered in a ping-pong style: batted back and forth, and Hemingway somehow captures that winningly, like it was a screenplay or an adaptation from life which in his case it probably was. Really, when you think about it most of the conversations we have are frivolous, though we might at the time kid ourselves otherwise, and even in those which do convey sentiments that are important or real, once said they pass. Fade as does the time and place they were said in just like a scene in a play. A new backdrop appears with the same faces or new ones and the action continues.
Real-life situations rarely contain monologues, and so neither does Hemingway; even the telling of a anecdote is peppered with interruptions from hecklers, who are more often than not tight friends. Tight as in getting drunk, till they are falling down or addle headed. And gad, did they seem able to drink in those days! Perpetually swimming in the stuff, so that alcohol becomes the dominate feature with events and friendships circling it, which today we would say is unhealthy, but drink then was a collective sport.
Relationships too, between men and women, are not much healthier in Hemingway's fiction. Some of the women, such as Brett Ashley in Fiesta, come across as impulsive, manipulative and at times uncaring, as well as wanting to be and considered as one of the chaps. Men are played off one another, or else the dialogue, in some instances, seems babyish or sickening; inebriation often the cause of that. The women, however, can seem one-dimensional: their characters not fully fleshed out, yet it doesn't really matter because the narrative is distinctly male. A perspective that female readers might find refreshing, even if modern ideas about 'correct' behaviour oppose that view, because the same passions and jealousies abound in the 21st century.
Hemingway novels have a fluid-like structure, which though hard to achieve means they could be seen as light reads; they're not. There are deeper undercurrents to plots and characterisations, with much left to guess at, and the atmospheres he creates are disquieting. It's literature that lingers in spite of its lack of lyricism (in my opinion) which other writers successfully convey in prose so that there's a rhythm or song-like quality. Hemingway, at least for me, is more sharp and journalistic, and far more visual, so visual that I can see the scenes he paints unfold as if they were on a Chinese scroll and not just captured in dry words on a page.
He typifies America, yet when I'm immersed in his works I almost forget because Hemingway travels well: the man and his autobiographical fiction. Likewise, although I recognise the alpha male, in him and his chums, it doesn't dissuade me from reading, rather it exhorts me to continue in much the same way a bullfighter works the crowd with his tricks as well as the bull to its untimely demise.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

The Scaffold

From my window I can see a crucifix. A lone crucifix made of steel atop a scaffold. Though in truth, it's not been purposely put there, as a marker, for it's part of the structure. A happen-stance of metal rods crossing each other, and viewable only from a certain angle. The angle in which it so happens the windows of my flat lay.
The contractors are unconscious, I dare say, of the large cross they've erected, as I look on, on the left-hand corner. They continue to go about their work, scurry up and down levels, and occasionally swing from these rods like monkeys in their own jungle-gym. Their antics reminds me of those black and white photographs taken by Lewis Wickes Hine in 1931 of the Empire State Building under construction, where migrant workers traversed steel beams unsecured with no harnesses. Now, unlike then, it would be a death-defying stunt, with the risks assessed, that a David Blaine-type might do. Or you'd think so. But these fellas across from me have been cavorting for weeks without any safeguards. There's a couple of woolly hats and occasionally a high-vis jacket and tool belt on display, whilst the mechanisms they employ to winch metal sheets and other building materials are almost as rudimentary as those used in the olden days.
Perhaps I'm wrong then to assume this crude crucifix was an unplanned occurrence, that it wasn't instead deliberate like an amulet to ward off evil, though I really can't imagine any one of them if cornered say over a pint in a pub (another stereotype!) would confess to such an superstitious act. Maybe there's an unspoken, yet followed, law, as there are in most male clans, which says: it stays within the building trade. And construction is after all a man's job. Or a tough woman's, because I think you'd have to be tough (and physically strong) to work in that game. I wouldn't want to and couldn't do it, but some women would take to it like a duck takes to water. Nothing I think should be off limits for any person of any gender, and yet I still stand by my opinion that construction speaks to the 'male'. The masculine side within all of us, though it's more pronounced in others as it is with being left or right-dominant.
Yes, there's something quite caveman-ish about building. It evokes the same kind of imagery, well, in me at any rate. It's mostly out of doors, it's practical and requires brutish strength as well as agility and manual dexterity. It's mathematical, it's mechanical, it's creative. And it's risky, with the kind of dangers our primitive brain relates and has adapted to. It's a trade for doers, not pen-pushers of which I am one.
For someone not so inclined to manual labour, it's fascinating watching men at work and seeing a building rising from ground level or being converted to flats or into a restaurant, as well as the way in which it changes the landscape – where you live and where you work. Even in the distance sometimes, I can see the outlines of cranes or at night the red light that signals them to aircraft.
Everywhere you turn there is development and re-gentrification, which personally I'm ambivalent about or indifferent to, and yet I admire it as a form of work, art even. Because I lack those skills, those learned or inherent, and that motivation to want to take a concept on paper to a solid structure which is not just sound but also visually appealing and in keeping with the area, so that those who make it happen seem like a different breed. Peoples that I want to understand and yet am intimidated by, as much as I am by what they create in all its developmental stages. It's the seemingly impossible made possible with grit and know-how, the likes of which may be transformed by but won't disappear with digital technology since it's a trade that needs bodies not robots.
In summation, I think we'll wind up valuing construction to a greater degree than we do now if the future continues in the direction it's heading, particularly when skills in other fields are on their way to being obsolete. We should never have changed tack and placed academia above the vocational for in doing so we've not only sidelined people but also left a pool of others unprepared for this transference of labour. The platform we've started from should be a support rather than lead to misadventure years later.

Picture credit: Steel Construction, Empire State Building, 1931, Lewis Wickes Hine, NYPL Digital Gallery

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Knot Temple

There's a knot I've tied I can't untangle. Although when it first came about I couldn't say, perhaps because it was minuscule like a knot in a fine thread after a button's been secured or a hold darned. It held the repair yet didn't prevent other buttons working loose or other holes appearing, and neither was it sizeable enough to stop the status quo: life, in its own fashion, went on, regardless of whether I was fully cognizant of this one little knot.
Until there came such a time, before today, that this knot could not be thought away or denied. It had grown. Grown into the magnitude of a kidney stone and lodged itself primarily in the trachea, though there were occasions where instead of there it could be felt blocking the entrance to the stomach, just as if it were one in a pile of stones that you might see shielding the opening of a cave. Though perhaps in this case it was more of a barricade rather than a shield for I don't think this stone was guarding or concealing any treasure, but rather preventing feelings – of hurt, of guilt, of anxiety – from reaching their usual endpoint, where they would only swill around or stoically sit and cause upset: a bloating or a sickening sensation, possibly with a suppressed belch or two, or worse the rise of undigested food.
I actually preferred it when this tightly bound knot was higher up, a prominent Adam's apple, or so it seemed to me though it wasn't; there was never any view of it whenever I checked in the bathroom mirror, despite its bobbing, which like a phantom limb was felt if not visible to the naked eye, when I deliberately swallowed or recited some lines of a play.
That there was an obstruction I was sure, and which I knew from past experience might at any moment cause me to gag, or, if only partial, my eyes to mist and my nose to run. Innocuous foods (well, as far as I thought my body was concerned) might bring on the latter: just-made-still-warm nut butter, cucumber, a cup of tea (no dairy), any soup of bland description and boiled, mashed, fried or baked potatoes, and yet, with spicy foods those orifices remained completely dry. Instead there was a coursing of not unpleasant heat which went around or flowed over deterrents like a river whose passage couldn't and wouldn't be halted, but as much as I would have liked to have basked in that affect so that I'd have none of the watering and sniffles I did not think this wise.
Moderation, not limitation, my motto, as well as you can have too much of a good thing, which if you did would only upset the carefully loaded apple cart, and then where would you be? It's right that life should present you with some discomforts, at some time or another, just as it's natural for the body to manifest anything suppressed in the way of physical complaints, though I concede neither beliefs are shared often.
You, the reader, can't even be sure if the person speaking here is the real-life version or a semi-fictional character with true opinions and factual experiences thrown in that might or might not pertain to the author citing them. At the end of the working day, it's all just shrapnel. Grist to the mill, which may or may not be ground and used, and which is as far away as you can get from the subject of knots, or stones for that matter though I guess you might find a bit of grit in amongst the grain. What I'm saying is everything – observable and felt – has that same potential: store, dispose, use right away, though often the process is less machine and more oh, yeah I forgot about that, or where did that come from? Coincidental versus Surreptitious, which then somehow all link up with each other and form a plot, or as I said a knot, which can morph into a stone when its bonds grow too tight to be unpicked and so becomes smooth and flat, enabling you to act out and upon the same themes.
And now suddenly I have this feeling I've written all this before. And not that long ago either – as little as a year, maybe not even that. Are we all on repeat? It can't just be me. I don't get that many kicks from it I can tell you. One or two differences in any situation can be enough to disguise its sameness, enough for us to think 'no, this is different and therefore so will be the outcome.' and then when it isn't, well, we blame ourselves for falling into that trap in the first place. But if these knots were seen for what they are they could be a catalyst to great, or even unusual, things.

Picture credit: The Abbey in the Oakwood, Caspar David Friedrich

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Heavy Hearts and Emptier Pockets

There are those who torture themselves for being idle, through no fault of their own, and those who relish any opportunity to be so and in fact find any excuse to do just that. Not all of the latter are plump or jolly or fabulously fat; some are skin and bones, their muscles wasted away, and yet their life, at a glance, seems full of ease. Idle they may be but it doesn't seem to bother them, not even if they have to live on next to nothing or lead the most unhealthiest of lives.
It's far harder being idle when you don't want to be, when this wasn't a conscious choice you made, and when everything then is tainted with slothfulness. The good intentions were there but the work was not. Idle hands makes the mind slow, which makes the limbs leaden and the body lumpish. The old horse doesn't want to pull the cart; the cart will not be pulled for its stuck fast. Both essentially dig their feet in, and no amount of squirming will get them under-way.
Modern life offers more possibilities of that: laziness combined with fidgeting, and it's good men and women that are faced with battling it day by day, in and out of employment. Idle fingers and thumbs when you're at work whoever heard of that? and yet, it happens, is happening in service sectors where administration is called for but rarely done, because the presence of someone carries more weight than the actual workload which up-to-date procedures have greatly reduced.
People are paid to sit and be as unproductive as possible, even though they're infuriatingly bored and itching to do more rather than pretend to be occupied. Superiors have no further work for them to do and so they rifle through papers or sort and amend electronic records, and all the while watch the clock for their next break or home-time. And this goes on day after countless day. The work is not backbreaking and yet, it breaks spirits.
It's employment, true, but its pointlessness borders on insanity, places all those employed to do it in a morale-lowering nightmare. A version of living hell that could never have been foreseen prior to this Digital Age. But where else can such people go when they know nothing else? A tunnel of worthlessness beckons...the darkness drawing them ever on in the faint, yet prevailing, hope there will be a visible light, as they confuse this tunnel with another kind or associate it with finding copper in mines. It will come, it has to. It will be seen or found.
In time, however, even that glimmer of hope dies when the darkness has become an all-encompassing pitchy black, with nothing, no other shade in-between to distinguish the shadows that fall on its tunnelled walls. Then, and only then, do they sink to the floor or stumble onwards like a drunk, weaving man with their eyes unseeing like a mole who might find himself above ground in broad daylight, only their circumstances are reversed.
The gradual realisation, that doesn't for some reason hit bit-by-bit but with a blunt blow, in spite of its unacknowledged, slow coming on, that this could be it is never pleasant. Many a man, and a woman, will want to instantly lay down or drown in their sorrows, knowing that they do not possess the strength to continue groping in this ever-lasting dark when the hope of a light, any light, appearing before them has gone.
With prematurely aged and non-transferable skills, there is no place for them on the upper rungs, unless they can and choose to evolve, which can only be done when an opportunity is granted, and for that there has to be a willing employer, but of these there are not many. And even then it's best not to expect the same job satisfaction or similar pay. Everybody is being squeezed, and if not squeezed then pushed under.
It's a dire state of affairs, which is not in itself new just different, and in some ways more glum-making for those who are not young and not yet old. The young have more resilience and will adapt, the retired don't have to try. The middle generations that fall between suffer, particularly if they're not made of stuff that can take these constant knocks and shut-downs. And so, they wander in the dark with heavy hearts and emptier pockets.

Picture credit: The Angelus, Jean-Francois Millet, 1857-1859, Musee d'Orsay