Sunday, 29 June 2008

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Drawn (3)

Anyway (he began strangely, as though carrying on directly from where he left off), one of the things I mentioned in the post before last which has been a preoccupation:

I was given the task a couple of months ago, by a very senior person at work, of planning, setting up and carrying out some art sessions in which the various client groups could participate. Now this is something I really wanted to do, haven't done in a very long time, and was excited and daunted by in equal measure. I always get tense when I'm planning things as well.

In short, at the beginning of the week we (I didn't, I have to admit, do the planning and the rest on my own - I would have found that very difficult) ran the first session, and it was a good, positive start. So I'm pleased and relieved in an immediate sense, it's been good to finally get it underway - hence my mention in Monday's post about going out for a couple of well-deserved beers.

I'm also feeling positive about it, should it prove to be a longer-term success (it's very early days at the moment). Up until relatively recently I've been making lots of effort to try and find other, more art-related employment. So for once, it's a nice irony that during that time my own work has, at last, started to become more art-related.

It should hopefully mean that I'm happier there at least for a while. Additionally, should I feel the need to seek out other opportunities at whatever point, then these art sessions won't exactly do any harm to my CV.

I think there's going to be a lot of hard work involved in making this work, but for once it's the kind of hard work that I will relish.

Monday, 23 June 2008


I didn't expect to be writing another post so soon, but something just struck me as I sat having the aforementioned pint(s) of Abbot at my local.

Having been for a very satisfying bike ride, and then just enjoying the feeling of a couple of drinks, I pictured myself back on the bike. Suddenly, thanks to a relative sense of distance from my earlier exertions, the whole concept of cycling struck me as utterly bizarre: sitting - balancing - on a metal frame with wheels and expending a hell of a lot of effort and energy whilst moving at some speed. Now part of this weirdness is the sheer physics of the situation - which I shan't go into since I don't have the mastery of the language required - but that weirdness is very much there, and seems to create a sense of precariousness to say the least.

The other aspect of it is that of the seemingly total lunacy of braving, over the course of a couple of hours, elderly drivers who don't see you as they pull out of parking spaces; idiots on mobile phones who will cut across junctions on the wrong side of the road; people of any given age who will happily pull out of a junction not expecting you to be so close since you're on a bike and are surely going so much slower than anything else that moves; people who think that around 40cm is sufficient space to give you as they overtake.

I could list many more. Such as the twat who trailed behind me for a mile or so on a straight road, where it was safe to pass me at any point, but who then decided to overtake only when I signalled to turn right.

Averaged out, I've been out on a bike ride for between 90 minutes and 2 hours, at least once a week so far this year. Given the sheer hazards as outlined above, you'd have thought I'd have packed it in by now; either that or I'd have been killed or severely maimed at least.

Then I weigh that up against the enjoyment and fulfilment I get from it (including shouting expletives at the types just described), and I can't see me stopping any time soon.

Odd, isn't it?

Interim -Abbot

I've had a few things on my mind lately, a few preoccupations and things I've needed to focus on and deal with.

Not in a bad way mind you, far from it. But it's meant that I've been posting less here, though there are things for me to post about.

That will happen, I hope, as the week progresses. Not this evening though: tonight's priorities are

1) A bike ride

2) Down the pub for a well-deserved (no, seriously) pint of Abbot. Or two.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Home (2)

Nothing if not dizzyingly varied. Despite, regardless of, and because of so many things, I still love the place in which I grew up.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Always sat in the same corner

I was back in Derbyshire this weekend, and went for a couple of drinks in one of the local pubs. In this particular drinking establishment, there used to be an elderly lady who always sat at the same table in a corner. A tiny, frail thing she was, and - I guessed - in her late seventies.

She would sit there, sipping slowly from a glass, and smoking the occasional cigarette. In lighting up another, her ever-present tremor - which served to heighten her sense of frailty - would become more apparent. Her whole body would seem to shake during the action of putting the cigarette in her mouth and lighting it up. The shaking would then subside, to a significant degree.

I knew nothing about her, nor did I have any real curiosity: for the most part, she was just the elderly lady who was always sat in the same corner. I never spoke to her - the bar staff would exchange a few words with her when collecting empties, and on the couple of occasions when I heard her voice, I couldn't tell what she was saying. She reminded me of my paternal grandmother, in that her voice too was at the mercy of her tremor, meaning that conversation took much effort and concentration.

I do recall her eyes though, which - again, like my grandmother's - radiated character and an independence of spirit which belied her physical frailty.

One evening, I'd ventured into the pub having made arrangements to meet up with a friend for a drink. I'd arrived slightly late but, as I scanned the room, I couldn't see him anywhere. It did come to my notice that the old lady was sat in her usual corner though, and I also felt a little annoyed when I saw that the pub was going to have the first of a regular karoake night, and were just about to get started.

I sat down with my pint, idly people-watching and wondering where my mate was. The karoake was, I had to begrudgingly admit, grimly entertaining: a note-perfect version of "Return to Sender," though sung in the broadest of Derbyshire accents, and consistently half a bar out of step with the backing music, was the most memorable. A Robbie Williams wannabe sang a couple of Oasis songs. Someone did a passable "Disco 2000." Still no sign of my mate.

I was getting ready to finish my drink and leave, and then I noticed something which sat me right back down again. The guy operating the karoake was encouraging people not to be shy, and to get up on stage and sing: the old lady had got out of her seat (something I'd never witnessed previously) and was making her way shakily across the room.

Surely she's not heading for the stage, I thought (or rather, hoped). Maybe she's going to ask to have the volume turned down. But no, she stepped awkwardly onto the stage. This, I was telling myself, is going to be horrible: a real car-crash moment. I realised I was clenching my teeth and frowning a little with tense anticipation of what I imagined I was about to sit through.

As the lady spoke with the karoake man, I noticed that the general hubbub in the room had gradually subsided and all eyes were on the stage. The man was pointing at the selection of songs but she was shaking her head: she was going to sing something unaccompanied. Oh, shit, I thought. This is going to be as compelling as it is painful. I'd still been holding onto some faint hope that she might pull a stunt like a septagenarian man in a bar in Nottingham who had spiked his grey hair up with soap and then got on stage and sang "Firestarter," reducing everyone to stitches.

I was actually feeling quite nervous.

She looked - if such a thing were possible - even tinier and more frail, stood centre stage with all the lights on her. The man had placed the microphone back on its stand and lowered it down for her, and now she stepped forward a little.

She started to sing. Thanks to her shaking, the first few words sounded choked. I was biting my lip, hoping this would be over quickly.

Then something remarkable happened.

She took a deep breath, paused for an instant as if to gather all her strength - her very essence - and then continued. What followed was a song about losing her sweetheart to someone else: heartbreak, sweet sorrow, and jealousy. The words were clearer now, and she was finding her voice: clear in tone, delicate and feminine, and seemingly much younger than she.

Her tremor would noticeably alter the pitch of her voice from slightly sharp to slightly flat, but this just seemed to heighten the emotions that she was conveying. Now, as she got into her stride, she was transformed - she was the young woman experiencing a broken heart for the first time, simultaneously innocent and world-weary, betrayed and lovelorn. No longer was it just her eyes which seemed to transcend her years, it was her whole being.

And when she sang the word "jealousy," it was devastating. Her voice was breaking free from the tremor, finding its pitch, and the combination of notes and those three syllables was one of the most moving things I've ever seen.

She reached the last verse, pausing slightly again for a moment as if to gather her remaining reserves. That lilting voice, those sorrowful words were almost too much to bear, and when she sang the final note she was off-key: which, somehow, made it perfect.

There was a moment of stunned silence, and in that moment she visibly wilted as though transformed back again from the young woman of the song. But the applause quickly came, cheers and whistles too, loud and enthusiastic. She stood for a moment, old and frail again, but with those bright, determined eyes looking round at everyone and taking the whole thing in: and then, having been helped down from the stage, she made her way back to her usual seat, the cheers not dying down until she was back in her place.

I bought myself another drink and went and sat outside for a few minutes, a little glassy-eyed. What I'd just seen left me pretty much speechless for the rest of the evening: I was glad my friend never showed up after all.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

The non-loneliness of the short-distance cyclist: post script

Following my recent day of being randomly accosted by a number of people with varying degrees of bizarreness (in this post), today I happened to pass by the same gentleman mentioned in the first encounter of that particular escapade.

I'd been quite suspicious that his friendly greeting and jovial manner may have been a prelude to him asking for money: well today when I passed him (in a less than salubrious part of town, near where I work) he greeted me with just as much enthusiasm. I wouldn't have noticed him, sat as he was on a low wall near the pavement, nor would I have recognised his face: his actions gave him away though. Immediately I felt on the defensive once again - I wonder whether he greets everyone like that, or thinks he knows me - but he then proceeded to make a few comments about the weather.

I responded in kind - yep, fingers crossed it stays like this and so on, the sort of conversation you'd have while queueing in a shop - and that was it. A short wave, and onwards.

So he wasn't, it appears, after money. Whatever the reasons for his seemingly pathologically cheery disposition, it's nice to be proved wrong.

Friday, 6 June 2008

A contender for the laziest post award, if such an award exists

I've just been out cycling for a couple of hours.

I've also just read this post, on But Why?'s site. It describes, with uncanny accuracy, how I feel having been out cycling for a couple of hours.

Therefore, in some kind of circular logic (given that this feeling is of uselessness and contentment), it has saved me trying to find the words to write how I feel having been cycling (you guessed it) for a couple of hours.

Thanks Dr But Why?, there's a cheque in the post*.

*not strictly true. Not true at all in fact.

Monday, 2 June 2008

For Signs

Signs asked me if I'd posted any photos of Berlin, following me commenting here. Well it gives me an excuse to post some more doesn't it? I've lots of more obviously touristy photos but I thought that Signs, as an ex-dweller of Berlin, might find these ones a little more interesting (I reserve the right to be wrong). In an "I can do requests" manner, I'm happy to post a few more if there's any demand...