Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Reading the wrongly-written signs correctly

A sign spotted on the bus yesterday:

Passengers are advised to remain seated until the bus is stationery

I suppose it makes some sort of sense, given the amount of shops I've seen which purport to sell stationary.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Trout Mask Original

Slightly shy of twenty years ago, I recall some balmy summer evenings sat around a table with three other friends. This was in a student house but it was pretty well-kept, any rough edges being part of its charm. Wooden floorboards, and a long open-plan living room, and the double-doors open to the garden.

Low lighting.

A bottle of whisky at the table, generous measures being regularly topped up. A mixture of easy conversation and hard concentration. Cigarette smoke. We four would be playing bridge. I was a novice (still am - I've hardly played since) but would enjoy the challenge, and no-one was too bothered if I asked for advice: it didn't hinder the flow of the game.

These were marvellous evenings.

As often as not, an album would be playing on the stereo that complemented - or maybe completed - the atmosphere. A trippy, unfettered thing that really got under my skin. Interlocking yet contrapuntal slide guitar riffs, loose and syncopated drum beats, and bursts of growled vocals and freeform sax playing.

This album was "Mirror Man" by Captain Beefheart: a series of extended jams which really seemed to capture the woozy meanderings of our conversation and gameplay (and whisky) set against these hot summer nights.

That was an ideal introduction to Beefheart's music for me and, when these particular nights in question tailed off, I gradually found myself searching for his albums.

Trout Mask Replica is the one most people talk about, and not without good reason. I'll just say that I loved it on first listen, and have done since: it seemed to perfectly fill a musical gap for me, given the various types of music I'd been listening to for a while.

But, on hearing of Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet)'s death yesterday, I've just sat listening to Doc At The Radar Station very loud, and am struck by not just how original it is, but how - despite playing it and his other work countless times over the years - startling it still is for me.

For some reason, it's this album that I've listened to the most. I know the notes and layers really well, since I was near-obsessed with this album for a long time. Yet there's still something surprising about it as I hear it for the first time since he died. It seems there's always something beyond those notes, layers, nuances, dynamics and discord, which never fails to engage.

I always wonder how it sounds, to talk about emotions and loss and so on, when the person who's died was not someone known to me in any personal sense. But, my word, the impact of the music that he created, and what it did for me: it's difficult not to get emotional about such a unique and utterly enriching music knowing that the driving force behind it has gone forever. There was nobody like him, ever - and I doubt that there ever will be again.

Friday, 17 December 2010

The week in groans and creaks

I had a fabulous weekend last weekend, notably going to see one of my favourite bands on Sunday night. It was worth the long drive and the late night to witness them play as an ensemble for the first time in about 8 years, and to experience again at first hand the swirling, intense, epic and often heartbreaking music they play.

They really were nothing short of remarkable, and the quantity (a 2 and a half hour performance) matched the quality.

It was fantastic to be there, to see some other old friends, and to have really made the most of my weekend.

I was at work the following day and, whilst feeling in reasonable fettle physically speaking, I was in a flat mood which intensified as the day went on.

I felt more like myself on Tuesday, but it proved to be a long and hectic day and I do feel that it's no coincidence that I've been run-down, sneezy, achy and bunged-up for the latter part of the week.

I'm as physically fit as I've ever been, all things taken into consideration, but I just don't have the stamina anymore to even have just one or two late nights without there being some all-too-tangible repercussions.

Not that I would have missed a night like Sunday night for anything - I just have to brace myself for the seemingly-inevitable aftermath.

Like when I got back from Krakow, having had a wonderful week of relaxing, socialising, and drinking all at a nice holiday kind-of-pace: by the latter half of my first week back at work, I was in pretty much the same state as I am now.

So it looks like it'll be a quiet night in tonight - the thought of beer isn't even an appealing one, it wouldn't taste right thanks to my current minor ailments.

Thursday, 16 December 2010


I was sat on the bus today, across the aisle from a very prim and proper-looking woman, perhaps starting to head towards late middle age. She was stylishly but not extravagantly dressed. She looked a mixture of approachable and no-nonsense; assertive, independent; possibly in a senior, powerful job.

These were my immediate assumptions, anyway, I've no way of knowing how accurate they might be.

What I certainly didn't expect was that, when I suddenly heard the opening riff to Paranoid by Black Sabbath, it would be the ringtone on her telephone.

I like being surprised like that.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

End of the week

I was in conversation with a senior member of staff today, at a social event. Given the intensely fraught nature of the work and of the organisation itself in recent months, this member of staff was talking about how the atmosphere was, when he had recently been at the main office.

Poker-faced, I replied that I hadn't been there for a while, but that I could well imagine the atmosphere there, given that I've seen Downfall.

I'd like to think that, at certain times, there is a value in such gross exaggeration: that a carefully-calibrated overstatement can allow the actual truth of the situation to pass through and to register almost undetected.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

One giant leap

I just used that knife again.

No maiming or mishap occurred. I have clearly learned something this week.

I'd better be careful when I do the washing up though - the knife is in the bowl and may be lurking, shark-like.

Monday, 6 December 2010

A letter to my younger self

To me, aged about 20 minutes younger than I am now:

Dear trousers (yes I still use the lower-case, even in the future),

That new knife you bought for chopping up food. It's very, very sharp. That's why you bought it.

So if you happen to be surprised when you cut your fingers open when you're preparing your dinner - because you've forgotten that the knife is very, very sharp, even though that's why you bought it - then don't expect any sympathy from your future self. In fact, your future self thinks that you're a bit of a twat right now.

Yours, trousers (with sticking plasters on his fingers).

ps you're aging well.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Misreading the signs

Misread at the counter of a local pharmacy:

Effective relief for the symptoms of margarine.

Which is far better on every level than the one I misread in the dairy section of the supermarket a few days ago:

Manure Cheddar.

You'd think I might have developed a little more manurity than that by now.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Last few conscious thoughts in November

Before my ears start to ring, I've turned the laptop and all the music software and various bits of equipment off. Immediately after I last posted on here, on Saturday morning, I spent a while on the music: as if to prove the thrust of that post wrong, I was very quickly in the middle of it all and making a few leaps forward, and having a great time with it.

Tonight's work has left me feeling altogether less satisfied, but for all the leaps and bounds there are many sessions like this one: valuable in that I've retained continuity, but otherwise less decisive or inspiring, or indeed inspired.

One of the reasons for me to pick up my various sound-generating devices and programs this evening was to consciously put a few daytime cares out of my mind for a while, and therein also lay the value. There have been tempers, tears and despair at work both today and yesterday. Not mine, I may add, though that's not to make any claims for some kind of resilience on my part. Nor am I unaffected by seeing what others are going through: I can readily recognise the anxieties, tribulations and doubts that I'm witnessing in a couple of key colleagues: I've known those things well enough myself, recently enough, and hardly consider myself immune from any fresh inroads that they may attempt on me at any given point in the future.

The 1st of December always makes me think of the same date in the mid-1970s ('75, perhaps) when I was eager to get to school, since I knew that we'd be starting to do Christmas-themed things: making decorations, reading stories and so on. The weather was as cold and icy as it is now and I remember approaching the school, walking at an incautious pace despite my mother's gentle reproaches. Sure enough I slipped on the ice and my excitement turned to tears, at least until my mother had got me up off the floor, consoled me and ensured I took more care for the remaining steps of the journey.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Looking in

I'm not sure where, if anywhere, this post is going to go. But I feel compelled to write about something.

It stems, in part, from childhood memories, let's say from around the mid-70s. That something is represented by the pub. More specifically, about the fact that I couldn't go into the pub - nor would I have necessarily wanted to. But the pub was a domain which resonated with mystery, with grown-up things, with things which were other and separate and about which I could only imagine.

Most pubs then, at least as far as memory serves, had high windows (no doubt that's more about the fact that I was knee-high to your average grown-up) and frosted glass. The latter in particular fuelled this sense of otherness - bright lights or dim lights, amorphous shapes moving around accompanied by the sound of chatter, laughter and music in the background.

The pub seemed like a gateway to an adult world, where people talked about grown-up things. Where they could spend some of the money they'd earned at work (another unimaginable concept for me at the time).

I imagine the talk to be of the politics of the day: miner's strikes, power cuts, the three-day week, OPEC, the EEC (the "Common Market") - or more frequently, about the football, last night's television, a smattering of gossip and a serving of bawdy humour on the side. All dressed up in the attitudes and mores of the day. Over a pint of Mansfield, or Double Diamond maybe.

I couldn't imagine entering that world. In fact, as far as my local pub (from where I grew up, and occasionally revisit) is concerned, I still feel slightly self-conscious when I happen to walk in there. Plus I've still never ever gotten over the novelty of walking into any pub or bar and ordering a pint of ale.

But I suppose it's not really about the specifics (nor about the nostalgia), and more the sense of access - or lack of - to something other, something esoteric. Something tantalising perhaps, due to a combination of proximity (eg being able to peer through the frosted glass) and distance (the same frosted glass acting as a barrier).

I remember the feeling though, akin to what I've described above, aged 21. There was a school reunion at the local welfare, and I remember standing at the top of the stairwell and suddenly halting at the (again) frosted glass doors. There was a different sense of the other at this point - I had moved to the city and was in the middle of my art college days. I had long straggly hair, ripped jeans, outsize, baggy jumpers and all the rest, and knew I would stick out like a sore thumb when I walked in to see my old school mates. I stood there, hesitant, wondering whether I might even just turn and walk back home.

Then, as it happened, SJ turned up, and he was dressed in old army stores gear, big Dr Marten boots, and his hair was a jubilant mass of dreadlocks. He boldly strolled into the function room and I followed him, suddenly not feeling quite so other.

The underlying point to these musings is, I think, that the combination of barriers and gateways - both real and imaginary - is something which has permeated my outlook.

One barrier to my creative side, I've realised, is that to fully immerse myself in it and in what it requires, to fully get into the flow of it, often requires a leap: a leap which takes me from the outside looking in - a view which shows one's ideas and methods in a diffuse and rather abstract light - into being right in the centre and fully, intuitively conversant in it all, to a different and more fluent (or fluid) relationship between the self and the realisation of those ideas.

Sometimes this leap is fairly easy. Sometimes it is aided by a sense of permission (hearing or seeing the work or approach of someone else which serves to lend a certain validity). Other times it's forced by sheer will, usually accompanied by the sound of me chiding myself to stop being so bloody silly.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010


2 things:

My Grandmother is 95 today.

She's never owned a phone of any kind.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Bar scenes

A week of immersion in these kinds of colours, and the atmosphere that they suggest, is a good week in my book.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Thank goodness for soft furnishings

It happened rather more quickly than I expected. Falling apart, that is. It happened yesterday afternoon.

I'd been for a bike ride, and for a while after that I felt a mixture of contentment and tiredness. I relaxed.

Well, I thought I relaxed. The tiredness took a greater hold and the contented feeling was replaced by agitation and unease and a whole bundle of dark, rather stressy thoughts. I tried to distract myself with a few things: a couple of programmes on iPlayer, a few small tasks here and there, but this thing really had me in its grip.

All this on a fine, clear Saturday afternoon with a whole week away from work (and, as of tomorrow, away from these shores) ahead of me. It was frustrating as much as anything, wanting to let go of it all but not being able to.

I knew I was probably dehydrated from the bike ride, and the water I drank took the edge off it a little bit, but I still wasn't ok. I was trying to dismiss the stressy stuff - none of it was anything that I could act upon or make any kind of difference to - but it wouldn't go away.

After another hour or so it felt just a little less intense. I decided I would treat myself, and went to the local curry house for a takeaway. Starter and main course.

Once home I realised just how incredibly hungry I was. I put the starter and the dips onto a plate and swiftly sat down and tucked in. Little pause between that and the main course. Wolfing it down like there was no tomorrow.

I felt tired again, but more of a pleasant, calm tiredness. With it came a steady easing of the stress, and a return of a sense of perspective and rationality: I was ok again, much more settled at last. I now feel like I can look forward to the week ahead, and make the most of it.

Maybe I needed to go through that mini-meltdown to come out the other side. Shed some work-related shite. Now it's time to properly relax and (gasp) enjoy myself.

Thursday, 11 November 2010


Suddenly I remember what it's like.

I feel like I've worked non-stop this year. The breaks I've had, a few days here and there, have been during times when I've not been able to fully switch off, when things have been too intense. During one such break, for a few days back in May, a friend noted afterwards that I really wasn't my usual self.

No, I suppose I wasn't my usual self - I was trying my best, but was already carrying a lot of shit around at that point, and bracing myself for more (it was a good job I did brace myself too).

This will be the first full week - ie Monday to Friday, bracketed by the weekend on either side, that I've been away from work this year.

I'm ready, and suddenly I remember what it's like.

What it's like in the remaining days before a holiday, when the prospect of winding down for a little while is so close, so tantalizingly close...but just another day or so to go.

What it's like to start to unravel a little, to fall apart a little, because one can actually allow that to happen. In the working week such an occurrence feels like dysfunction, whereas having the space to fall apart a little is actually a luxurious one (in this particular context).

I've one more day to go. I'm in that crossover point. Not quite there, but straining to be there.

Whatever happens during the working day tomorrow (and these days I'd be a fool to be surprised by any eventuality, no matter how seemingly unlikely), the working day will end in the late afternoon regardless, and then I'll be there.

Then I can fall apart, and I'm looking forward to being able to.

I think I'm ready.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Thursday, 4 November 2010

This post.. a quiet post.

No complaints, no observations, no whining, no allusions or cryptic references.

Just quiet.

Sometimes, I like it like that.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Misreading the signs (I've lost count of what number we're on)

Misread on a display whilst out walking earlier:

Be risible this winter.

I'm sure that won't be difficult to achieve.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Flu perspectives

I've been a bit run down the last few days. Nothing major, but I've been under par, and some of it is certainly self-inflicted, thanks to a heavy (in a good way) weekend. I booked leave from work for the first two days of this week, knowing that I'd be of little use to anyone, and in fact I damn well enjoyed being of little use to anyone.

Typically, though, a three day working week has felt like it lasted twice as long. There are still plenty of ructions and instabilities and uncertainties (and stuff) happening in the workplace. However the main reason for the time drag was that I felt, on Wednesday and Thursday in particular, like a teabag that had been used twice and then left to dry and shrivel up (look I'm still not quite 100% so don't expect any better analogies).

Anyway, though it's meant I've had less energy and stamina and perhaps the occasional hint of cold symptoms (which appear to have passed), that's been the worst of it. It certainly reminds me that I can no longer party like I'm half my age, without expecting any consequences.

What it most definitely isn't though, is the 'flu (I'll forgo using the apostrophe from this point because I can't be bothered with it).

I've realised that I get very annoyed...well ok I can get annoyed with most things, I'm more than aware of that. Still. I get very annoyed when I hear people, especially in the workplace (but anywhere else for that matter) say, through a blocked nose and punctuated by snuffles or a sneeze, I've got the 'flu.

(Yes I know I said I would forgo the apostrophe, and I remain consistent with that, but the person saying the above quote used it.)

No you haven't got the flu (see), you've got a cold or possibly some sort of viral condition which might have a few mild symptoms in common with the flu. Otherwise you'd be at home bedridden, drenched in sweat and in a mild delirium, feverish, aching and feeling like death warmed up - or alternatively, death cooled down. Flu knocks you for six, it can make you feel filthily depressed, unable to eat, move or concentrate, and you certainly don't feel able to get up and go to work and sit in an office (or a laboratory, if that's where you happen to work) and say I've got the 'flu.

If you did manage to drag yourself that far, you'd be more likely to be saying Taxi? Yes, can you take me to [insert home address here] as quick as you can, thank you, and saying sorry boss, I'm really not well enough and I shouldn't have come into work today in the first place.

Plus, if you did manage to drag yourself that far and somehow felt like you could at least sit in your office/lab/abattoir etc and try and work, hopefully it would only be a matter of time before a more sensible colleague or boss quickly phoned a taxi on your behalf and ordered you home - both for your own sake AND SO THAT YOU DIDN'T BLOODY WELL PASS IT ON TO ANY OF YOUR WORKMATES YOU UNTHINKING IDIOT. WHAT ABOUT DAVE AT THE DESK NEXT TO YOU, HE'S GOT TWO WEEKS HOLIDAY ABROAD STARTING THIS WEEKEND AND WHAT HE REALLY WANTS IS TO FEEL LIKE SEVEN DIFFERENT KINDS OF SHIT WHEN HE CATCHES WHAT YOU'VE GOT, DOESN'T HE?

Anyway. So no, I'm not feeling too bad at all (and rather better for a rant, actually - did you notice that I ranted? Did you?), and certainly well enough to go for a walk with the lovely Fire Byrd tomorrow. But then I haven't had the flu, or anything remotely like it. Sometimes it seems like not many people know the difference anymore.

Thursday, 21 October 2010


I was in a queue at the supermarket earlier today. Hardly a long queue, though a little busier than usual. When I got to the checkout, the lady who served me said, I'm sorry about your wait, to which I immediately replied, with faux indignation, but I've lost a stone!

She laughed, and I remarked that I was glad that she did - bless her, she said it had really cheered her up.

In an alternative, imaginary scenario which immediately started playing out in my mind, I said to her, well, you've got to enjoy the laughs and good cheer when you can get it, haven't you, because after yesterday's euphemistically-titled spending review, we're all well and truly fucked, aren't we?.

I may have then either trudged out of the shop with an aura of tragedy, or continued on to musing intently to my surely-now-less-than-appreciative audience about misery, alienation and death, depending which scenario seemed more entertaining in my mind's eye.

Probably the latter, because it would have annoyed the shoppers being held up further in the queue behind me. In the event though, I (thankfully) kept all this within the confines of my skull, and left her still in a moment of levity.

Friday, 15 October 2010

On reading

I'm reading again. Reading a book, that is.

Earlier this year - May, I think - I stopped reading, before I'd finished a book. I was about a hundred pages in, and then lost the will to continue with it.

It wasn't the book itself that put me off reading any further, far from it: what put me off was a sudden dollop of Challenging Stuff in that there real life. It forced my attention onto other matters largely beyond my control and, crucially, I didn't want to associate a book which had such promising and intriguing qualities, with such a challenging time.

So I stopped reading because I felt I had to, and I was in a frame of mind in which (rightly or wrongly) I felt I wouldn't be able to find any refuge in such an activity.

So now, months later, I've started reading again. Not the same book - I'll come back to that, all in good time, it will be read - but one which feels appropriate to now. Which had to be the case, or I wouldn't have started again for a much longer time, I'm sure.

I'm not going to mention the book(s) in question, at least one of which will become the subject of a different post. The point, though, is that something has shifted - I can at least concentrate upon the act of reading again, I may well have finally incorporated or assimilated those aforementioned challenges to some degree.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

400 posts

I had a series of dreams the other night, each one had a different scenario with a connected theme: the sense of becoming aware of an alternative and very beautiful space, yet which had a dark element of some kind or another about which I/we (you know how it is in dreams, there's a bunch of people with you sometimes and you know who they are, but there's no way you can define them when it comes to explaining it all to someone else) had to be very wary.

In one such dream, "we" (see extended parenthesis above) found ourselves in an almost Eden-like place, lush and fantastic, and yet there was an individual there who was deviant and aiming to corrupt. Despite the obvious reference, there were no Biblical allusions - not least since we decided to take direct action and spent most of the dream pursuing him, lynch-mob-style, shouting "WANKER PATROL! WANKER PATROL!" repeatedly.

When I remembered this the following day, I burst out laughing, but it wasn't appropriate to explain why to the company I was keeping.

I Misread a Sign today, for the first time in a while, on a leaflet I saw somewhere. What I read was

Think about your excrement

Whereas it was actually

Think about your retirement.

What I do think, is that I would be an analyst's dream (but not like my dream as detailed above) at the moment. But I shan't ramble on about such things more than I already have, that would feel just a little too indulgent.

So that's what I write about in my my 400th published post. Typical.

I shall treat (!) you to a self-portrait: I'm in the pub.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Not just a walk in the park

The weather, in London at least, was unseasonably good at the weekend. It's rare that I get to spend any more time than the odd day here and there in the capital, so it was a blessing that, apart from a dull Saturday morning, it was all warmth and sunshine.

Then again, we seem to get fine weather with sufficient regularity at this time of year, that it's perhaps no longer accurate to use terms such as "unseasonable". I remember being quite startled one afternoon in late October, back in the mid 90s (the decade, not the temperature), that it was warm enough not only to sit outside and have a pint, but that it was practically t-shirt weather as well, even as the sunlight was starting to fade.

That was during a weekend in London, coincidentally, and I remember thinking that being down south was surely a factor in the relative warmth so late in the year. These days - whether there or further north - it's a much more familiar, less startling scenario all round.

There could be (and probably are) any number of reasons why I was descending into such a rubbish mood as I strolled through Hyde Park last Saturday, but it wasn't due to the weather. A gorgeous, warm afternoon with bright sunlight, which began to gain a delightfully soft and hazy aspect as time wore on. Plenty of people were around but there was so much open space that it felt calm and quiet.

I strolled over to my destination, the Serpentine Gallery, and picked up a guide to the show of works by Anish Kapoor which are installed in nearby locations.
My mood quickly and definitely lifted as I spent a good chunk of time in apprehension of this piece, initially, and then pondered and explored the remaining three pieces. Their monumentality combined with their reflective (both literally and metaphorically) qualities drew me in, and I greatly enjoyed the adventure of heading from one to the next.I felt like I could have stayed for many more hours, not least since the slowly fading afternoon light imbued the whole place with a gentle, meditative atmosphere.

I had other things to do later on that evening, however, so with a mixture of anticipation tinged with slight reluctance, I headed out of Kensington Gardens. Needing a rest for a while, I had a very contented couple of pints at a pub across the road. It was still warm enough to sit outside and drink in the atmosphere as fully as possible, as afternoon slowly became evening.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010


I love this song, it has a certain majesty and melancholy, and is very much a pop song.

That's all.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Work in progress

Right, I could make excuses or apologies or feel awkward or whatever, but I shan't. The title of the post says enough anyway, so I'll just hit "publish" and go and hide in a corner.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Oil and water

I was once in the middle of a very intense conversation with a fellow student at art college. This is going back a while, I don't remember what the conversation was about (it's beside the point at any rate), but I do remember that we were both drinking lots of coffee whilst we wittered on.

Come the eventual reflective pause, we each of us realised that we'd had far too much coffee and were highly-strung, fraught and a bit shaky.

We decided that the antidote lay within the confines of the nearest pub, and trotted over there as fast as our chemically-boosted metabolisms would allow. Which was pretty fast, in fact.

Two or three pints later we were much calmer, more settled, feeling like we'd achieved a sense of parity through countering the intake of stimulants with those of depressants. We returned to college, and I recall having a lengthy conversation with another fellow student. I felt lucid and level.

When I bumped into this latter student the following day, she asked if I was ok. I wondered why she needed to ask, and she said that I'd seemed a little odd during our conversation the day before. I mentioned to her that we'd had our chat after I'd had lots of coffee then some beer.

Ah, that actually makes sense then she said, laughing. She explained that half the time whilst talking to her, I'd appeared very taut and tense in my body movements and general demeanour, whilst my words were issuing forth in a slightly unfocussed and slurry way.

Conversely, the rest of the time, I was speaking quickly and a little forcefully, whilst my body movements were loose and languid.

Clearly, the beer and coffee didn't mix in quite the way I'd perceived.

I mention this now because my working days are split, and have been for some months. The split seems to be getting wider. Mornings now feel like drudgery and tedium to a large degree, and leave me feeling flat and introverted by the middle of the day.

Afternoons (in which I spend my time helping to facilitate creative group work) are nourishing and sustaining, and that feels like an understatement.

I've become aware that for the first hour or so of the afternoon, however, I hardly talk to anyone, keep myself in the background, don't wish to engage. As time wears on during the afternoon I feel like I regain my life and confidence and can take a leading role in the group, advising, encouraging and motivating others.

That first hour in the afternoon bothers me. I know that it's about the transition from one role and the place I occupy within it, to a very different one. But it seems more prominent now, and feels as though the distinction between the two roles is getting harder to manage. I hope this situation doesn't last.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Cigarettes and piss

My stat counter is down, and blogger seems to want to randomly announce "service unavailable" as though it's just joined a Union or something.

Anyway, I'm rather pleased with myself this evening. There's a melody which has been going through my head today - quite an insidious thing it is, perhaps rather cheesy too..but I wouldn't really know, I can't quite objectify it - and I've managed to remember it long enough to be able to record it along with an accompanying chord progression (well, there are three chords).

The reason I'm so pleased is that there have been several previous times that I've had this particular melody going through my head, and I've thought to myself oh, I'll remember that easily enough. Guess what - each previous time, I've forgotten it, I'm not sure how. It came back into my head today, for the first time in months. Yes, this is one of those which has been nagging away at me for years - perhaps three or four years - and I've finally nailed it.

Where I take it from here, I'm not sure - but at least it's there, recorded, tangible and accessible, and I can at least take it somewhere.

Conversely, after a weekend away in beautiful scenery in mid-Wales, I have many photographs I would like to post up here. I can't, however, because they're all in my head: I was hurtling around on a mountain bike and capturing the views with a camera just wouldn't have been very wise from the point of view of my health and safety.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Tired but not quite so grumpy.


(Just felt I should get the formalities out of the way first)

It's been a long week, and much treacle has been waded through. It's been, to borrow someone else's sense of the grandiose, a journey.

It's about an hour ago that I finished my last work appointment of the day, and stood at a bus stop in a less-than-salubrious part of town, eager to put work behind me and to contemplate some level of relaxation or enjoyment or some equally strange notion.

Rush hour was starting to hit full flow, and in the traffic queue on the other side of the road was a sleek black car containing a young, streetwise-looking driver and (presumably) his girlfriend. They had their windows closed but the sound system was pumping out a sufficient amount of decibels that I could hear the music well enough.

Loud music it was, and this young couple were nodding their heads back and forth in time to its relentless onslaught.

I wouldn't normally take any especial notice of this. It's hardly a rare occurrence on the city streets these days.

However, what they were churning out over the speakers was orchestral music. Really rousing, stirring, Last-Night-of-the-Proms stuff. It really made me smile, and they were clearly loving it. They spotted me and I grinned and put my thumbs up, so they wound the window down to allow me further appreciation of it, grinning back at me as they did.

A minute or two later they were off, the traffic queue finally moving on. But it was just one of those nice and unexpected little moments, and it seemed to mark in clear terms that work was over and that the weekend had begun.

It's not all grumpiness round these parts.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Contains more grumpiness

Following on from my previous post, I may as well carry on in a similar vein.

I'm utterly sick of people who walk right across your path like you're not there. It's ignorant and annoying in the extreme. You're walking along and you notice someone in the periphery of your vision, entering your personal space and then straight in front of you even though - you would have thought - they damn well know that you're there, and that you'll have to stop abruptly to avoid bumping into them and tearing a few strips of skin off their heels.

Well, when that happens, I don't stop anymore. If they won't show me the courtesy of at least acknowledging that I'm there, then I'm tired of extending that courtesy to them in return.

It happened a couple of days ago. Somebody approaching from my left and, rather than wait a moment until I was gone, this guy just walked right across my feet.

I don't actually like confrontation (no, honestly I don't), but I carried on, and walked right into his heels.

He turned around, and it was hard to read the tone of his voice when he said, are you alright?

So I just said, you walked right across me. Watch where you're going, please.

I held his gaze and he turned and carried on. And so did I, after a moment, in the direction I'd been walking before I'd been so rudely interrupted.

Actually what's triggered off my posting about such further grumpiness is a very highly petty thing which happened just now in the supermarket. I was just in the middle of putting my shopping on the conveyor belt at the checkout, when the lady queuing behind me took it upon herself to take one of the dividers that you put down between your shopping and the next person, and to put it down next to my items before I'd actually finished.

Yes, I might be veering into sheer pettiness here but I thought that was a little presumptious - if not downright discourteous - of her, so I took the divider off and put it back where it was, until I'd put the rest of my shopping down.

I think she got the message, standing back until I'd made it clear I'd finished.

...and relax, breathe out, it's the weekend.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Contra Indications

I was crossing a busy road this morning, half-hoping I could jump on the bus that had just pulled up to the stop on the opposite side. Looking to my right, I noted that it was safe to cross, since both cars that were advancing from that direction were indicating to turn left at the junction, way before they got near to me.

I'd looked two or three times - clear. I took a step out, then a second step, then suddenly was startled when I heard the loud beep of a car horn from the right hand side. There was one of the aforementioned vehicles, driver gesticulating furiously, presumably wondering as to why I was stepping out in front of him.

He was still indicating left, despite having passed the junction. I gesticulated furiously back, pointing at his indicators and shouting words to the effect that they were to show where he was going, not where he wasn't (I was quietly grateful for the fact that he'd sounded his horn correctly, so as to avoid causing me serious injury or worse).

Later this afternoon, I was crossing a wide junction on a very quiet stretch of road, doubly cautious now. Just as well then that I'd spotted the car coming in the opposite direction, the driver of which decided he would show me the courtesy of using his indicators after he'd actually started turning.


So I decided I wouldn't rush across this particular road, he would have to wait given that he hadn't made his intentions clear.

This on the same day that I got a call on my mobile purporting to be from my bank (like hell was it - they'll have to try harder than that to scam me), and, on my landline, another of those irritating, automated "free messages" from some company or another - I couldn't say who or what, since I'd slammed the receiver down long before the recorded voice could get any further.

What's even more irritating, however, is that if you pick up your handset before the message has finished, it's still there burbling away and you can't use your phone until it's reached the end.

Right, that's one or two annoyances dealt with. Time to relax, if such a thing isn't too far beyond the realms of possibility.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Why I like cycling (3)

Cycling has been a constant since I was able to take it up again in earnest at the start of April - certainly, it's felt like the one constant. Good things and bad things and all sorts of things inbetween have happened during this time, but there's been a definite sense of very destabilising upheaval (if that's not overly tautological).

The weather has been so good these last few days that I've been anxious to get back on the bike as soon as the circumstances allowed. I hadn't been out for a spin for a couple of weeks, until just now.

I set to it with sheer glee, and after a certain spell of time, felt that sense of mood enhancement and the rest of it can all go to hell that often results. Helped by being out of the city and in pleasant scenery.

I feel better for it.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Oh, my

I listened to this last night for the first time in a few years.

It astonishes me and, though I was in the company of a friend, it felt like a very singular, private moment, and I quietly wept a few tears.

Saturday, 28 August 2010


Negative changes are impacting on the remaining things which I value about work, and indeed which have been the only things making me want to stay there.

They also are likely to impact on things such as free time, morale and so on.

I feel I could do something rash, like resign, which is perhaps not the most sensible thing in the current climate. For the immediate future it's a case of grit my teeth and carry on.

I continue to work on my music a lot more, and I feel that in some respects this is driven by a sense of sheer spite.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010


It used to be that I'd go to London with some kind of itinerary, even just a vague one - some record shopping here, a gallery or two there (not least a wander around Cork St), perhaps some sightseeing.

During college days when the Tate was all one gallery (as opposed to Tate Britain & Tate Modern) and when we'd be heading down to see specific shows, a few of us would always eat a big fry-up in a lovely cafe a few minutes' walk away. In the end, eating at the cafe became synonymous with a visit to the Tate.

In more recent years when I've usually headed down on my own, I've followed the same very loose plan: do a couple of specifics and then let the rest of the day just take its own shape. On my return from a stroll round the halls of the Tate Modern, I tend to find myself taking a relatively lengthy walk around and over the river and through Embankment tube station.

There's a nice, fairly cheap noodle bar just near there, takeaway only. It slowly became the stuff of habit - if not ritual - to pick up a carton of deliciously spicy food from this place after such a walk. Summer or winter, rain or shine, I somehow find that I would rather stand up and eat my food from the carton - whether sheltering under a tree or sitting overlooking the adjacent park - than to go to a cafe or a pub and eat sitting comfortably down.

Yesterday I decided, snap decision, that I'd head down to London. On the train journey, I realised that it's reached the point where the only clear thing on my agenda was getting a takeaway from this particular noodle bar, and that was what I really looked forward to.

Straight out of Marylebone, caught the tube to Embankment, and felt utter contentment when I ordered a spicy pork dish with noodles, eating them whilst leaning up against a wall, under a tree to shelter from the light rain.

I was then left to wonder exactly what I was going to do with the rest of the day. Not that I struggled to find ways to fill my time down there, but post-noodle it didn't really matter: I'd had my fix.

Friday, 20 August 2010

The shorter the week = the thicker the treacle

In which I demonstrate my hitherto undisplayed facility for equations.

Well no, not really.
I'm now off work for a few days, but there seems to be a sense of inevitability as regards what one has to wade through in the period leading up to a bout of holiday. This week has been no exception and working hours have left me variously angry, bewildered and tired out.
I'm not going to dwell on that though, the onus is now upon me to do some serious switching off and leaving such things behind for a spell.

What has been a Good Thing this week though is that, following on from my previous post, I've spent a fair few hours in the evenings hunched over my laptop and working on more music.

Not, it has to be said, that I've been able to translate (or transcribe or whatever) the various ideas that were swimming around in my head last weekend - nonetheless, I've been able to maintain a sense of flow, of continuity and of sheer absorption in it all. To dig up many scraps of older, unfinished ideas and to either discard them, or to begin working on them afresh, or to incorporate one piece into another.

I've maintained an environment for myself which allows for escapism and concentration: candlelight only, internet switched well and truly off, other distractions pushed to the background.

It's been lovely, actually, and if a bit of toil at work has pushed me to further engage with the things which make me feel better, then I've done the best I could over the last few days.

I now have a change of scenery until after the weekend, and I'm sure that will help me to switch off too.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Windows to the soul

I like the fact that someone landed on these here pages after searching for dying trousers. I would hope that I need not point out that rumours of my death, or indeed my being dyed, are greatly exaggerated.

I was away to see my mother this weekend. As usual, distanced from laptop/musical equipment and any other such creative tools, the ideas flowed in abundance. Part of me thinks that this is a case of Sod's Law. Separated from the means to create, my brain starts working overtime on what I could be doing.

On the other hand, I know for sure that that's less than the whole picture. What I get from such weekends, in this particular respect, is space: in a literal sense, thanks to a non-urban environment; but also in the sense that, away from the pressing (ha ha) demands of the week, my mind can wander with far less constraint. Thoughtful, reflective at times, but alive, buzzing.
During my art college days I was drawn to landscape as subject matter, which was later to inform more abstract concerns. For so much of that time I felt immersed in such space, and it really fired me creatively.

Though too often buried beneath layers of the stuff of more everyday matters, it heartens me to feel that I can and do still respond to such stimuli. Indeed, I have to - these things are as important to me as life itself.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Chilli for the time of year

I was given a chilli plant.

This was back in April.

I wondered if it was ever going to provide me with any chillis.

How did I miss this?

Sunday, 8 August 2010


I just found out that Tony Judt died.

I only became aware of him last year when I bought a rather sizeable book called Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, he being the author. It's an excellent read, and one which I would recommend to anyone with an interest in modern history . I feel like my perspective has been greatly enriched, not just on past events but also many aspects of very current events.

I began reading it in March last year, and it immediately felt like one of those books to savour, to read at a leisurely pace and to take it in as fully as I possibly could (still plenty of it went over my head, it will merit another read some time). I finished it at the beginning of December, happy to have got through it all but with a tinge of sorrow at putting down something I'd been immersed in for so long.

I know next to nothing about the man himself, except that he became ill with motor neurone disease in recent years. Nonetheless, that one book has had a huge impact on me, and it felt only right to say as much here.

Respectfully then, R.I.P. Tony Judt.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Captain Obvious

I was in a restaurant last night, waiting in the corridor to make a quick visit to the conveniences once they became free. As I stood there I saw various waiters and bar staff coming and going through the door marked Staff Only.

I then spied a gentleman in a chef's hat stroll out of the same door and down the corridor where I was waiting - possibly he was going out the back for a cigarette break.

I'd really enjoyed the meal I'd just eaten, and thought that now was as good a time as any to pass on my compliments.

I've just had a really nice meal - it was lovely, very good food, thank you! I said, or words along similar lines.

Yes, it was me that cooked that food, he said, with an air about him as though he was imparting some insight or nuance that I hadn't actually picked up on.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010


I'm struggling with words at the minute. Oddly, I'm finding it easier to engage in various technical processes which facilitate the making of music - something that I often find myself putting barriers up against (and moaning about it on here).
So I'm switching the PC off and the speakers and bits of equipment on, before the urge escapes me.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Today I had a meltdown

I'm not going to suggest it's easy to deal with major stresses.

Because it isn't.

But, with some major stresses, you at least know what you're up against. It doesn't make it easy or, necessarily, easier, but there's a sense of tangibility, and you know damn well why you're stressed.

And, perhaps, it helps other people to understand more easily what you're dealing with (or trying to), too, and to empathise. If you're bruised and battered from fighting a bear that's entered your porch, others can look at you and immediately say, "no wonder you're bruised and battered."

Whereas comparatively minor, more insidious but (perhaps) no less insistent stresses are, by their nature, more diffuse, less definable, and less easy to position yourself against. They can build up, catch you off your guard, you think you're ok - when really you're not - and, after all, I dealt with the big stuff just fine, didn't I?

In that respect, it's harder to explain to other people, and I'm slower to make sense of such things myself. People are less likely to be understanding if you can't adequately define what you feel you're up against, particularly if it's many little segments of this and that. If you're not bruised and battered, because you've spent the day merely attempting to rid your house of flies, wasps and an infestation of ants, it can be harder for those around you to take you quite so seriously from the word go.

Today, when I was really starting to feel more than hopeless, I was able to offload. Not before time.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Beside the sea

Not the most evocative piece of film ever, but it was nice just to have that gentle moment, all the same.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Misfortune tellers

In my lunch hour, I decided to pop into my bank. I'd just noticed that my debit card had a split in it, and would need replacing. It's still usable but is likely to be rejected by some card readers, more so as the split gets bigger.

So, once in the bank, I was approached by a member of what they seem to call "floor staff," to whom I explained the problem. Ah, you'll need to use the phone line. Dial ** and that'll put you through.

Ok. So far, so good. This particular branch is a big, city-centre branch, and yet there are just two phones available for such things. Both were in use, so I stood and waited a suitably discreet distance behind the guy using the nearest one.

I waited for around 20 minutes, getting rather impatient. Not with the guy on the phone, it wasn't his fault. He sounded fraught, and he kept turning round and saying sorry, which was nice of him. I kept making it clear that it was ok. The person on the other phone was there for just as long too, and there was a guy also standing and waiting for use of that one.

Anyway - back to where I was and I noted that the poor chap trying to make some progress with his phone call had by now managed to get the attention of one of the floor staff, who intervened and soon sounded exasperated herself, not least with the fact that it was a bad line. Finally she got this guy an appointment to see somebody, to sort out whatever his problems where.

I went and sat down at the phone booth, and dialled **. I got an automated service telling me which option to press for having had my card lost or stolen. I hadn't had my card stolen and it certainly wasn't lost, it was right in front of me. The other options were equally irrelevant, except for pressing x for other options.

I pressed x for other options. I then had to enter various numbers: my sort code, my account number, my security number. What they didn't make clear was this this was not the security number on the back of my neither-lost-nor-stolen card.

They made it clear enough when they said (still the automated voice) that I had entered the wrong number, that I needed to enter various digits from the longer security number on my account, and that if I either hung up or wrongly entered the number again, any transactions on my account would be frozen.

Great, so I'm already starting to feel like a bloody criminal and I'm supposed to remember the 3rd and 5th numbers out of an 8-digit security number which I haven't used in months.

I was by now uttering curses under my breath and feeling like throwing the phone receiver against the wall. Twenty minutes of waiting, to be given a bogus set of options followed by being patronised by an automated fucking voice.

I entered the numbers correctly and was given my options again, none of which applied. I held on, hoping to be put through to someone. No chance. The voice informed me of my account balance - lovely, but that wasn't what I was after, thanks - and then gave me the non-applicable options once more. I waited, and was given my account balance again (which, interestingly, was exactly the same as it had been but 20 seconds previously).

I slammed the phone down, shouted one of the floor staff over and told him to get me through to a human being on the other end of the line because I was losing my temper and getting very annoyed. The chap dutifully did so.

The voice at the other end was in a hard-to-understand accent on a very crackly line, so I was having to ask her to repeat every other sentence as I went through the whole rigmarole of telling her everything from this number, that code, my address and my inside leg measurement.

Finally - finally I was able to tell her that all I wanted to do was get a replacement debit card through because mine was damaged. She dealt with this, and then "having had a look at your account with us," started telling me about a bank account which I could change to if I so wished.

Meanwhile an atonal howl of feedback informed me that I had a call on my mobile phone (the howl of feedback being my ringtone) and I was scrabbling in my pocket for that whilst still hearing "..enhanced rate of members covered for x amount of trips abroad per year..."

I'd missed the call on my mobile.

Excuse me I said sharply, my indignance at fever pitch that I was now receiving sales patter for an account which I couldn't give two shits about. I've been offered this account before, and I don't want it!. there anything else I can do for you today?


I slammed the phone down again and stormed out, glaring at all the floor staff.

If this is what it takes to ask for a simple task to be done, then thank goodness that - at least at the present time - I have no major financial issues that I need to sort out with my bank, that would surely be a Kafka-esque nightmare.

Which, judging by the haunted, bewildered look in his eyes, is exactly what the guy on the phone before me is going through. Damn.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Weight lifting (2)

According to my scales, I've lost almost a stone in weight in the last few weeks, which means that I'm not so far at all from what I'd consider to be my ideal weight.

One trigger for this is the very stressful stuff that was happening at work for a spell. It's not that my losing weight was a stress reaction, it's that I found myself knowing that if I really started doing sensible stuff like looking after myself with a little bit more rigour, then I'd be better equipped to handle whatever came my way.

Which, so far at least, has worked.

The other trigger, I think, is that (apart from the last few days) we've had a pretty decent summer so far. It makes it easier to just go out, stay out, and do more stuff - particularly stuff that doesn't revolve around the pub - and to eat lighter meals too. Last time I managed to lose this amount of weight - and more - was around four years ago, which was the last summer not to feature stupid amounts of torrential rain round these parts.

Changing tack slightly, there's some writing I want to do. It's been on my mind on and off for a little while, and I hope in a way that it develops into more of a kind of compulsion, since that will mean it's more likely (as with music) that I actually get on with it.

I make no bold claims (nor italic claims, nor sans serif) for this intention to write. It's just something, a little idea I want to explore, and not necessarily anything more than that. But I just want to make the point - to myself first and foremost - that I have to bloody well sit down and make the effort to type out the words, if I'm to allow any chance of seeing whether there's any merit in it whatsoever.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The nondescript

Going back to see my mother for the weekend often sees me experiencing mixed feelings, for all sorts of reasons. Last time I was there I was like a grumpy, semi-mute teenager, I couldn't have been good company, but that was while I was in the midst of some rather intense work-related dramas.

This weekend I was able to appreciate being there much more. The first thing I noticed was the background noise (I've described it on this blog - somewhere - before), the subtle and very alluring hum from the road in the middle distance, as it cuts across the countryside. I popped out for a couple of drinks on Friday evening, and sat outside away from conversation and hubbub, so that I could be enveloped as much as possible by this hum.

I attended a barbecue with my mother on Saturday evening, it was a family friend's birthday. I didn't stay late, I made the most of the weather and had a walk round later on, allowing my head to fill with narratives and ideas as I wandered the near-silence of the paths and lanes. Looking back on the barbecue, there was a really nice atmosphere, something almost heartbreakingly gentle about it.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Blogger, interrupted

I didn't want to have a quiet spell, blog-wise. I've had computer problems, this time it was the motherboard which needed to be replaced. Thankfully I've lost nothing, nor even needed to reload anything. All I've needed to do is tinker with a few settings and things are back to normal after a week or so away.

Still, I hope it's as easy to regain my bloggy momentum, since I'd been far more active on here in recent weeks. It'll also be a relief tomorrow morning when I'll be able to look at the weather forecast online and know whether, e.g., I need to take a waterproof with me or not. These are the things I take for granted, and really miss, when I don't have my internet access.

I've missed the company of my fellow bloggers too.

Oh, and a moan (not blog-related): why is it ok for everyone to interrupt me?

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Contains words about football, and another dream

This will be the one and only comment I make about England and the World Cup - specifically about the England-Germany game the other day.

A lot of people have said that we would have lost to Germany regardless of the fact that our second goal was disallowed, that we just weren't good enough. Up to now, I've agreed. In general, we most definitely weren't good enough, throughout the whole tournament. Pretty poor in fact.

So - we were losing by two goals to nil. Yes, our midfield and defence made very basic errors which allowed them through. But how many teams, in that position, make a good enough comeback to equalise within the first half against a team such as Germany, on a high-profile stage such as the World Cup finals? I'm finding myself starting to agree with those who suggest that if our second goal had been allowed - which it obviously ought to have been - that, at the very least, England were in with a chance to regain the initiative...we could well have been up against the prospect of an enthralling and more evenly-matched second half, possibly (just possibly, mind) with a different outcome.

Still, I did have the sense that if we'd won against Germany, we would only be prolonging the agony until the next game. Regardless of the what-ifs I've just posted, overall we were really walking a tightrope the rest of the time. We're out now, and I'm neither bitter nor am I exactly smarting about the outcome such that it was.

Right, that's that out of the way.

Last night I dreamt that I was in a shop and, as I walked along a particular part of it, everyone turned to me and told me I wasn't supposed to stand there. There was nothing to indicate that this was the case, it was just a normal part of the shop, with shelves displaying goods that were on sale - but everyone looked at me with sheer disapproval.

Meanwhile, in a different dream (or part of the same one, I'm not sure) I was sat with three security guards. One of them was actually a greyhound but also a dinosaur. He was a very decent sort of chap, all the same.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Weight lifting

This is the first Friday evening of the last several where I've felt calm and relaxed and feeling like the weekend will be ok.

The last few weekends have, in themselves, been ok - but the pressure of the preceding week has, on those occasions, left me tired and grumpy on Friday evening, waking early Saturday morning, and only starting to feel the benefit of a break from work when it's almost time to go back.

I don't wish to tempt fate, but the crisis points that have been a real challenge of late seem to be lessening. I'm not making any assumptions about what next week will bring, but I'm not feeling burdened by the residue of the (working) week that I've just left behind.

Which may leave me better prepared should there be any more nightmares.

But right now, I'm feeling lighter, and that's enough.

Update - Well, not really an update, but I should add: have a good weekend, all.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Beautiful World

You wouldn't expect me to write a post with a title like that would you?

I don't know, would you?

Anyway, the title itself refers to the name of a group blog that I'm part of, set up by the indefatigable Fire Byrd.

I like it, and perhaps you might do too. Go on, take a look.

Saturday, 19 June 2010


Still on the theme of dreams, last night I dreamt that I was in a posh living room that happened to be at basement level, and noticed a ventilator grille right in the top of one of the corners of the room. Later, I went up to ground level - the street outside - and was amazed to be able to look down through the same grille and see the posh room from above.

So I went back down to the room and looked up, then back up to the street and looked down. I really couldn't get over it.

Thursday, 17 June 2010


I dreamt last night that I was at a manor house for some big event, and that the photographs I had taken all had ghosts on them in the background. I was sure that no-one would believe me, but when I showed them to everyone, the ghosts were changing, moving round on the photographs as we looked.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Sometimes you step outside of yourself

I've alluded to some pretty intense stuff going on at work. The last three weeks have been among the most testing - if not the most testing - I've ever had to deal with. There was the potential for the worst of all possible outcomes, amongst all sorts of other upheavals and uncertainties.

I'm not saying it's over yet, that particular scenario, but it feels like a critical point has been reached, and passed. I had to confront a rapidly-building crisis, and in doing so then I suppose I had to confront me, too.

It's touched a raw nerve in me. No, not touched it - poked it, prodded it, gripped it tight.

It has, I think, made me more aware, slightly more conscious, at least for now. More sober too, far more sober, but not far too sober. It feels like dust has been shaken in some of the darker recesses of my mind, to reveal something.

To reveal, erm, a thing. An I'm-not-sure-what. We'll call it a knot. But it's something, and it's there, this knot, and it needs to be untied. This knot feels as though it isn't just about the raw nerves that have been exposed over the last three weeks - it's about other things besides: recent events have perhaps served as a catalyst.

That knot was there last weekend when I went to visit my mother. It's been there for a long time, I think - and it needs to be untied.

I remember once, when I gave up drinking for a few years, there was a curious sense of unravelling in the first few months. Not in the sense of falling apart, but in the sense of things, feelings, long hidden - perhaps that I'd chosen to hide from - gradually revealing themselves again, sometimes in a subtle way, other times sledgehammer-subtle.

That, however, was when drinking had itself become an issue which needed to be addressed. That's not the case this time, I have no concerns in that respect, I'm in a different place. Yet still there's this knot, and it needs to be untied. Whether I address it in the same way - ie a lengthy period of sobriety - or via other means, I'm not sure. But it's there, and I don't think it'll be going away anytime soon, and I'm not content to leave it alone.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Cold comfort collage

I was browsing earlier and was looking at a site containing instructions for making collage.

It's all good, easy-to-comprehend stuff - ideal for using as reference, say, as a basic teaching aid. User-friendly, easy to follow, broken down into logical steps and so on and so forth. It has separate sections - following on from the method - with extra tips, precautions, and other extra bits and bobs.

Things take a surprisingly dark turn when you reach the section giving links to related topics.
The first link is How to make a digital photo collage, and the next three links are along broadly similar lines.

Then we get to the last one:

How to comfort the dying.

Clearly, the art of collage is far more multilayered these days than it ever used to be. Is it a metaphor? The glue being that which binds body and soul as represented by the flat surface juxtaposed against the illusion of depth (just off the top of my head)?

Or has there been a poll or survey, perchance, the result of which states that Dying people find collage more comforting than previously thought?

Or should one cut out a series of shapes and colours to stick down on a piece of board which, when held at a distance of a few feet, is then seen to show a sympathetic message?

I think we should be told.

Sunday, 6 June 2010


The week at work was the most intense and tiring I've had for a while, it was difficult to fully put some things at the back of my mind: they remained, following me around, questioning me.

I went to see my mother this weekend and it felt as though things were a little bit scratchy between us. Conversation at times was not helped by the fact that neither of us has great hearing. I was exhausted, too - it was difficult to follow her line of conversation beyond anything other than the most straightforward topics.

When she asked about work I had to point out that it wasn't something I wanted to dwell on.

I went out for a couple of beers in the evening, and I really enjoyed walking home down the lane at around 11pm. It's a lane with a lot of space either side, and I remember as a kid imagining that each side of it was a different continent. I recalled this with a smile last night, and enjoyed the lightshow: the weather was breaking, and lightning from distant storms illuminated the dome of the sky.

I woke up and heard the thunder more than once in the early hours, somehow it was a kind of comfort, not least after a week when such a concept has been in short supply.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Without worry (2)

Once down by the pond, I looked around and saw tree-lined paths stretching out in several directions - some straight (one of them a mile long, I'm sure) and, as I was to find, some curving off and into the woods, to open out at some delightful, sheltered location.

One particular path - the longest one - had the prospect of another palace sat dimly and silently in the distance. I opted to take a walk down there, occasionally allowing myself to stray off onto one of the alternative tracks which would present itself along the way.

The whole place felt serene, gentle, soothing..some times radiating solemnity, other times playfulness. Here, for example, tucked away off the main path and occupying a little glade all its own, was an extravagantly ornamental Chinese House.

I wandered around it and looked at all the sumptuous detail, whilst not allowing myself to feel any annoyance at the fact that my camera was starting to lose battery power. This wasn't the kind of place where I could feel annoyed about anything, it was far too nice. After a little while I headed back to the main path.

I love these long, straight walkways. The perception of distance travelled, of the stately building ahead growing almost imperceptibly larger and clearer, and of my starting point being barely visible when I turned round to see my progress.

All was calm, and so was I.

This palace was magnificent, looming silently in its grounds, and sitting facing the long path I had just walked down. I doubted that the place was open to the public at this time of year: I could have been wrong but, in any case, I didn't feel the need to go in.

That, for one thing, might have broken the rather delightful spell that was cast here on the outside amongst the many treasures in the park (the biggest treasure being the sense of peace, of being in an idyll). No, it was enough to be here on the outside.

I strolled the grounds for a while. The winter light was growing weak once again, but without the coldness that had gripped the air that morning. This afternoon light suited the grandeur of the setting well. I lingered for a short time further before heading back in the opposite direction.

Further delights were awaiting. As I strolled back along the path, I took a detour to my left, and happened upon this:

I could go on. On the day itself, I did go on and found many more delightful features around which I could wander, enclosed spaces in which I could feel pleasantly cocooned, porticos and squares which seemed designed for quiet reflection. I stayed until the light faded, reluctant to leave.

I know why I've posted all this now. I've needed to dip back into the serenity of the place: it's provided some welcome respite from some of the challenges I'm experiencing at the moment. Despite the distance both in terms of time and of geography, I don't feel so far away from there, and that's really something to hold on to.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Without worry

Sanssouci, the park and palace in Potsdam, is appropriately named, being loosely translated into the title of this post. I was only aware in a very sketchy sense of the history of the place, and wasn't sure if I'd even find my way to it.

I'd gone to Potsdam on the last full day of my stay in Berlin, not sure what to expect, but feeling that I'd be disappointed if I didn't visit. The weak December sun didn't make an appearance on the cold, bleak morning that I boarded the S-Bahn train, which headed west through Tiergarten, turning southwest after Charlottenburg and out of the city via Grunewald and Wannsee.

I was by now reasonably fluent with the routine of train journeys across the city.

Aussteig, rechts. Doors open on the right.

Aussteig, links. Doors open on the left.

As the train took on new passengers and the doors closed again, the loudspeakers would announce the final destination, the next stations, and where to get off for connecting lines. I came to understand more of these announcements the more I travelled. However, I was less than adequate with my responses when a fellow passenger would ask, in German, is this the train to/ how can I get to... and so on and so forth - which was fine, but I was asked with more regularity than I was prepared for.

I loved hopping across the city on the S Bahn.

Potsdam was a longer journey than the previous ones I had taken, given that it's beyond the city of Berlin itself, though falls within the metropolitan area of Berlin/Brandenberg.

After exiting the train station and heading over a bridge to the central area, I wondered if I'd made a big mistake. Though there were some interesting buildings and monuments (such as the old town hall, just out of shot), I felt like I'd wandered onto a building site, flanked also by dull Communist architecture.

Still, I'm here, I thought. I may as well have a wander.

Things took a turn for the better when I reached the far side of the town square (equally dull but at least not ravaged by bulldozers), tucked behind which were a charming network of cobbled streets and more traditional, prettier buildings. These hosted a huge Christmas market which engulfed the centre of the town. I spent an hour or two browsing idly, dining, warming myself with gluhwein mitt schuss, and soaking up the atmosphere.

The atmosphere. Yes, it was nice, very seasonal (so seasonal, in fact, that it would feel absurd to post pictures of a Christmas market at this time of year. You might venture that it's equally absurd to be writing about all this stuff now, and you may be right, but something compels me to do so). Something was missing though, something was nagging at me. I knew if I returned to the station and headed back to Berlin, I would feel unfulfilled. I was tempted to do so, however, since a week of spending many hours walking and exploring each day had taken their toll: a mere couple of hours on foot in Potsdam had left my feet and ankles aching badly.

Nonetheless, I exited the Christmas market and pressed further on. The aspect of the town changed once again, as even, cobbled streets slowly gave way to gorgeous, treelined avenues which took me uphill and down again. Voltaireweg was quiet and pleasant, and by now the December sunlight was gently making its presence felt. I strolled slowly along: due to the aforementioned fatigue, but also because it was the kind of place that demanded I take my time.

I eventually descended to a traffic island (yes, sounds lovely doesn't it), here were some of the main intersecting roads into the town: but on the other side, opposite me, was the entrance to Sanssouci.

Already, I knew I'd made the right decision to spend my day here, as I crossed over the island and walked up the slope and the steps. Sanssouci is one of the most beautiful, tranquil places I have ever been. In front of me at the top of the steps, was a palace stretching across the grounds, and overlooking a rather grand view onto the parklands below. I wandered and took many photos, and just allowed the serenity of the place to begin to seep its way into me.

I remember, as I slowly paced the length and breadth of the palace grounds, seeing an elderly couple stood on the gravel, embracing. The lady had tears falling down her cheeks, but was utterly calm - they both were. I felt like it would be intrusive to remain near them, but somehow they completed this particular scene, dignified and quietly emotional.

Just as the walk along Voltaireweg had served to dictate my pace, I felt no rush, but neither could I linger. The earlier fatigue was now almost forgotten, the splendour of the grounds stretching out magnificently all around. The way down into the park grounds was via an astonishing series of tiered walkways which I slowly negotiated, descending each level only after spending as much time as I could on each particular terrace.

This, really, was only the beginning.

Thursday, 27 May 2010


Striding Edge is a ridge on Helvellyn in the Lake District, over a mile long. It's a personal bête noire, given that I was half way across it one clear, icy January day a few years ago, when I suddenly realised how genuinely, truly terrified I was. Half way across is a tricky point at which to have such a realisation, it makes as much sense to continue onward as to turn back.

This feeling was perhaps surpassed only by the sheer relief when I got to the far side of it and was still alive - a feeling which lasted for several days. Which might be an exaggeration, but deaths do unfortunately occur there from time to time.

Today I was due back at work after a few very pleasant days off.

Last night I dreamt that I found myself with three friends who informed me that we were not only going to walk Striding Edge, we were going to camp there overnight too. The conditions, even at base level, were treacherous - and I felt a rising sense of unease: I didn't know we were coming here to do this, I don't have the gear, not even my walking boots, I have my battered pair of trainers which barely have any tread left. I'll slip. I don't have my thermals or my waterproofs, I'm not prepared, I'm going to be in trouble.

I woke up afterwards and thought - this is telling me I need to be ready for a whole bucketload of shit when I'm back at work today - I can't allow myself to be caught unawares.

Thank goodness for that dream.