(Phew, it’s been so warm, and for so long, it’s getting beyond a joke, isn’t it? This is England!)
Along with such peculiarities as hearing early morning whistling, milkmen, whistling milkmen, chimney sweeps and the rattle of manual lawnmowers on a Sunday, pipe smoking has all but disappeared from English society (and dare I assume most others too?)
I see, whilst searching for a good picture of Bertrand Russell last night that he was a pipe smoker; there were few photos in which he wasn’t either sucking on or holding aloft, as if proudly, a pipe. And, I don’t think, it was because he was old. I remember at school many of the younger teachers would choose to puff on a pipe rather than a cigarette. It may have been something to do with intellectualism; the thinker’s token?
But then, didn’t Popeye have a pipe, permanently sticking out to one side, the one with the inflated cheek? In odd situations, he would opt to ingest his potent canned spinach via its bowl so we must assume it wasn’t always lit.
Then again, I heard somewhere that outdoors workers would invert their pipes in the rain, so the tobacco wouldn’t extinguish. You’d think some bright thing would have invented a cowl to go over the bowl, like you sometimes see atop chimney pots.
But again again, the English comedian, Bill Bailey, on occasion uses a pipe as a comic prop. I believe, as a visual clue to parody or feign an intellectual moment.
My friend’s dad had a rack of pipes which seems an extra odd thing to have, unless each pipe offers a different characteristic to a smoke. He offered us a smoke once, which we did out of curiosity, neither of us being smokers though we had tried cigarettes. It was a full on smoking experience, a bit like inhaling a small bonfire, which I suppose it was in a way.
The process of making up a pipe was akin to making a proper pot of tea; an art of stages, something allowing thoughtfulness in intent and purpose. Unlike lighting a cigarette, or fag as they were called; a mindless activity.
Someone said the other day that you could still buy pipe cleaners – those short, thin, bendy things covered with little bristles, in essence a brush – though they’re more likely to be found in art and hobby shops, bought by art teachers and kids to make models with. They’re still called pipe cleaners though this relevancy is probably lost to all.
Images: “La Trahison des images“, 1928-9, by René Magritte
“Popeye” drawn by Bud Sagendorf
This the other day from Brain Pickings on something Bertrand Russell wrote,
“Make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river — small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls.
Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.”
Exactly! This is why I can’t go to work anymore: my interests are now too wide and my specialism is just too personal. Well anyway, I’m going to make this my excuse, if ever I need one.
It’s interesting, a river as a metaphor for existence or life. Not the first time, I know, and not the last. I rather like the idea of a meander. Though with respect to work, we talk about “Career”. Then I like how Career has two meanings: a) that job thing, but also b) progressing in an uncontrolled way.
Yep, that’s been me.
Portrait by Larry Burrows
The downside of working full time, starting to learn another language and getting the house to look its best prior to putting it on the market, is I have little quality time for blogging. It has, unfortunately, become priority #4.
I feel I have to have quality time, and lots of it, to do this any justice. I’m not writerly enough to just knock them out, as my drafts folder will testify to: full to bursting with half-finished and barely formed and inept second-thoughts. Though I’ve never timed myself, I reckon each post averages about an hour’s work.
This reminds me of an anecdotal story told by the singer-songwriter, Leonard Cohen, when he met up with Bob Dylan. I can’t remember which of their songs they were discussing but as it is Cohen and Dylan, it hardly matters which. I think it might have been Hallelujah and I and I, respectively. Each admired the other’s song and Dylan asked Cohen how long he’d spent writing it. Cohen said “Two years” (though witness accounts say it was likely closer to five!) And what about I and I ? Dylan claimed it was done in fifteen minutes.
I don’t know who’s the better writer of the two and how much it really matters in the end, to the audience. Cohen said of himself he was a slow writer.
And he also said, at another time,
“The fact that my songs take a long time to write is no guarantee of their excellence.”
Portrait by Platon Antoniou.
Another reason I haven’t blogged this week is most of my efforts have gone into learning Spanish. It’s a tough language, I think, mainly because the pronunciation of the letters are totally different to similar looking ones in English. Like, a b in Spanish is pronounced more like a v in English, and a z is like a s’th sound in English. Also it’s a language best spoken in an accent which requires rolling the r and a lot of throaty noises. It’s a heavy phonic workout for lazy English speakers like me, for sure.
The other thing, which I suspected myself when using the Duolingo app, is that there’s Spanish and then there’s American Spanish. It’s a bit like English where the US and the UK are spoken of as two nations separated by a common language, so too for Spain and all those Latin American countries, and Duolingo, despite getting some approval from our European Spanish teacher, is also of the American kind.
But it has been fun! And I hope it continues to be so.
The above title, you probably know, comes from Monty Python’s Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook sketch, a reminder here,
My blog posts may become less frequent due to this work I’ve taken on. It really is a pain.
So, the first week is over and they had someone leave on Friday, and someone literally baked a cake for the occasion. As a newbie, of course I was the last one to twig what was happening and ended up sitting at the far side of the table. I couldn’t help but notice the young lad seated next to me seemed agitated. Although he was talking and joking confidently with the rest of them, his leg never stopped jigging up and down at a frantic rate; he also seemed uncomfortable in his seat, as if he was sitting on a thumbtack or had a boil on his arse. But the leg beat out this consistent rhythm. That morning, my car’s inbuilt diagnostics had warned me of low tyre pressure and I really wanted to ask the lad if he’d be happier spending three minutes on my foot pump. I am, after all if nothing else, a solutions man.
But I’ve seen this leg pumping business before; quite a few times actually and always in young, millennial guys. I noticed it in my previous job, this last winter; different place, different bloke, same leg pumping. He was seated with his back to me and to the side so I could see his leg jigging quite noticeably, all day long as he dealt with his emails, spreadsheets and schematics. Or whatever.
Is it a new thing? I mean, newer than when we were similarly aged lads. I can’t really remember to be honest but I don’t think so. Life was, I believe, a different game for us. Coming into view on the shirttails of the hippy movement, we were more inclined to be laid back. I don’t really remember having a care in the world as far as work was concerned. Also, I don’t think much was expected of us anyway; do your job, get paid, see what’s around the corner when you get to it. Now, it seems like life is an incurable addiction, only to be satisfied by ever increasing hits.
Take “cool”. In my mid-twenties, arriving in Sydney alone, just for the hell of it, I got talking to a Scots guy who was my neighbour there and who’d come over with his mates in the early days of assisted passage – it cost them £16 each, by boat. He saw my attitude as vaguely unconcerned, possibly even irresponsible, and once remarked how “cool” I was. So, by “cool”, he meant unfazed. Like, if you spilt coffee on a guy’s book and apologised, and he’d tell you not to worry, it’s cool – he was being cool about it.
Now, the vernacular is synonymous with something different: it’s brilliant, fantastic, awesome! It’s a thing which excites and elicits an emotional reaction; it’s the opposite of old cool and divorced from it’s root meaning.
By this time, the irritable leg pumper was getting on my nerves a bit. Whatever it was, it was contagious and uncool in whichever language it was spoken. It’s a rare moment when I welcome an end to time out and a return to my workload but when it finally happened it was an immense relief. Things were once more cool in my world, even taking into account my distaste for formal work and the unusual prevailing heatwave.
image: John R. Hamilton (via Pinterest)
When it comes down to it, what are we but a bag of animated chemicals and a bunch of unreliable memories?
I remember watching an episode of Batman on telly – at least I think it was – where one of his arch enemies – The Penguin, perhaps – had a ray gun which extracted the water from any person it hit, leaving behind a neat, conical pile of dry dust. Holy desiccation!, exclaimed Robin, possibly.
Much, much later, I read a piece by the late writer A.A. Gill. He compared a living person with the rocks around him remarking how the only difference between the rocks and the man being that mysterious “spark of life”. Whatever that is.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein gave his creation the “spark of life” by a knowledge of chemistry and by some secret means, though in its popular retelling, the spark often comes from an electrical charge; with a zap, the big bag of chemicals comes to life.
About twenty seven years before the publication of Frankenstein, Luigi Galvi published his own serious work on bioelectromagnetics explaining how muscles work by electrical pulses directed along neurones. Today, there is the study of neuroscience, investigating which parts of the brain light up with different thought processes and emotions. Synapses firing amongst the mysterious “grey matter”. From this, it has been theorised that long term memory is established through these electrical pulses whilst we are in deep sleep, or NREM (non rapid eye movement) sleep, and the poorer the quality of sleep, the more unreliable these memories are made.
Our bag of chemicals is replaced throughout our life; we literally are not the same body we were eight years ago, rather we are like the Ship of Theseus. Our identity, therefore, may rely on our memories, however unreliable these may become. Of course, in the long run, all our chemistry is recycled; dust to dust. And the memories, without the essential sparks, dies too. Or does it?
Is there a hard copy stored within the body, able to be shared before the chemistry degenerates? What would the product of all the accumulated experiences be, if we compared memory against memory? I have no idea, but it better not fall into the hands of AI, that’s for sure!
Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge Week 43
Anyone who has been around little children will probably know that sometime between the ages of two and three, they get a handle on that potent single word enquiry “why?”. A typical conversation may go something like,
“Why did you make the dog get down from the sofa?”
“Because someone might want to sit there.”
“Because they might be tired standing up.”
“Because they might have been standing up for a very long time.”
“Maybe they had to go shopping.”
“To buy you spaghetti hoops, and banana yoghurt and gingerbread men!”
(A pause; a quantum of hope, but then,)
Then there comes a time when “Why?” mercifully goes away. Maybe they learn how infuriating ad infinitum questioning can be, how socially unacceptable it is, or maybe they just move on, accepting some things are what they are, just because. Or they think they’ve worked things out by themselves, with the little knowledge they’ve acquired. And so, onwards into adulthood, we accept the way things are before questioning “why?”.
When was the last time you felt like asking a whole string of “why?”s?
I suppose the thing that holds us back is the thought that others will think us crazy; it’s not done to question conventions or conventional “wisdoms”. Some things are done simply because they are and we are loath to upset this basic order of life. We’re safe in our boxes, clearly labelled and all pointing the right way. And woe betide any childish person who comes along asking “why?”.
What am I doing, going back to work?!
On Monday, I start a new contract I accepted, now with a tinge of regret. I’m convinced the work gene is not part of my DNA. By “work” I mean employment, job, “9 to 5”. I can work in the sense of doing stuff, just not routinely for other people.
Also, I don’t think I’m much of a specialist. Thanks, partly to the economist and philosopher, Adam Smith’s Division of Labour, the modern industrialised world runs on a specialist economy: we are obliged to choose a field of expertise early on and within its narrow confines pursue something resembling a career. With enthusiasm and ambition. While this is arguably great for the economy, for the individual I feel it is disastrous: polymaths are rare and the interesting and usefulness of jacks-of-all-trades has all but diminished. Isn’t it telling that, in motivational speak, we hear phrases like “pushing the boundaries” and “thinking outside the box”? Isn’t it ridiculously ironic?
I console myself that it is a short contract and I am doing my sums to get a better handle on my finances, to see whether I need to work, and if I do, how little I can get away with. Money is essential but time is more precious.
Chedworth & Withington; Cotswold Walk no. 26; 9 miles, 4.5 hours (inc. stops)
It’s an unusually warm June, clear skies and humid, and I nearly put off this walk until some typically English weather arrives which is pleasant for long walks. But then there’s this job I’ve taken on from next week and so I strike while the iron, and sun, is hot. Fortunately, there are two good pubs on the way, about two hours apart, so at the last moment I grab my stuff and go.
The Jarrold book from which this walk comes, suggests parking outside an abandoned airfield but thinking this is too exposed and risky, I drive to the famous Chedworth Roman Villa where I can park amongst numerous others. This also means I have a leisurely two hours stroll to the pub at Withington in time for early lunch, and from there get to the pub in Chedworth by around 2.30. This does mean I’ll be doing the route in reverse to that of the book but on many of these walks, I’ve thought they’d be improved by reversing them, so let’s see. As reading the book’s directions backwards makes my brain ache, I put it away and stick with the map.
This is a superb walk with plenty of scenery and not a lot of trudging up and over hills. The first part is actually 2km along the road from the Roman Villa but it is so quiet. I’m passed by just two cars and four cyclists; the cyclists say “hi”. At a crossroads, I’m to leave the road for a footpath across meadows which more or less follow the little, babbling River Coln, but I’ve read about an art gallery located around here, The Compton Gallery, so I go off to have a look. As expected, it’s closed: it’s such a remote place and seems open only when they have exhibitions. I need to sign up for their newsletter.
The footpath takes me under a disused railway line – a victim of Beeching’s Axe? – and onto another quiet lane into the village of Withington. I was here less than a month back, having a pint and a ploughman’s lunch at The Mill Inn. And this is exactly what I do now, although I’m ten minutes too early for lunchtime so I go have a nosey inside the church. It’s a simple, solid looking building from the outside but inside, apart from a nice pipe organ, it’s one of the most austerely furnished ones I’ve ever nosied around in. A framed list on the wall shows the church’s rectors down the centuries. Richard of Forsthulle is the first named, taking office in 1283. He spent three years there before “Jordan” stepped in for a year, after which the job went to the fantastically monikered Ralph de Vasto Prato. Guess what his nickname was at school.
After lunch, there’s a slight climb up to Withington Woods. It’s not too steep but it’s through an open field and it’s the last thing I wish for after a lunch in this heat. Halfway up, I meet an electricity grid pylon looking incongruous in the landscape. If I were a modern day Quixote, this would be my crazy giant to tilt at. At the woods, I’m supposed to be guided through it by yellow way-markers but there’s none I can see. With woods, you just hope for the best. Luckily today I can see the sun, the map says head south and it’s not far off one o’clock BST – the old Boy Scout knowledge pays off occasionally.
I arrive at the edge of a disused airfield where the book tells us to park. I’m glad I ignored that, it’s far too remote and risky. I walk along the length of what looks like the main runway, cracked tarmac showing here and there under grass and weeds. It may have been built for the last World War; there are many such airfields around here though many still in use. So, the airfield, the abandoned railway and several Roman occupation sites – quite a bit of history here.
I arrive at Chedworth village coming down a hill path which enters the church yard. Going around the church, the path continues down to the Seven Tuns pub which I spot through a gap between cottages. They do their own beer here, I see, but I have a pint of Hookey. It’s a good ale. No one in the pub and only two women in the garden drinking wine. One goes inside for another round and the other strikes up a conversation – about the weather, mostly. It’s a Brit thing.
Should I have had that beer? There’s the steepest of steep climbs out of the village, though thankfully short. At the top, I follow a path which brings me to a field of rapeseed, already gone to seed. The map shows the right of way right through it and it looks as if the farmer has left a gap of two feet straight through. Trouble is, the crop looks about three feet high and the weight of seeds means the crop has fallen across this path. I walk it but it feels like walking through trip wires. It’s a wide field and, guess what, there’s a second one beyond!
Eventually, I reach Chedworth Wood. This is a working woodland, its notices say, and there are tree fellers and felled trees to prove it. This means there’s no getting lost: a single path directs walkers away from the timber business and out the other side. All that’s left to walk is a wide private lane, about 2km long, running between the woods and the River Coln, and plenty of shade from the trees. Before I get to the Roman Villa, I see a couple of hares in a field. These animals are symbolic to the area, in both Roman times and modern. As I get close, they hare off at a terrific pace. It’s a good end to a nice walk.
photos: The Mill Inn; tunnel below disused railway; Rectors of Withington; official footpath through rape field; River Coln under shady trees
I’ve never considered reading as a competitive pastime but maybe I should; it would seem I need to pick up the pace considerably, according to an article in Goodreads.
An ex of mine would devour any book in a single sitting. I lent her a book I enjoyed and a few days later asked her how she was finding it. It was okay, she said. Was? She’d read it in a day and it was three books ago. This was quite amazing to me but when I tried to talk about the book it wasn’t easy; it was difficult for her to remember exactly how she felt about it at the time; she’d moved on.
So, what’s my performance like? I get through a modest 10 – 12 books in a year, usually around 350 pages each. I’ve been reading ebooks for some years so I know my reading speed is around 6 hours from the app’s stats.
I joined Goodreads a while back, a social site for bookworms though I joined really to give some extra meaning to my reading, mostly putting into a few words what I made of a book I’d just finished. In this month’s Goodreads newsletter is an article on “Pro” tips to increase your reading rate. Many of these “Pros” read well in excess of 100 books a year. Let’s say two books each week, or one every three days.
Let me do the sums,
three days = 72 hours
healthy sleeping time = 24 hours (8 per day)
eating time = 3 hours
chores = 3 hours
work = 24 hours (8 per day)
time left = 18 hours
time to read one book = 6 hours
So, it seems as if I should be spending at least one third of all my spare time reading books. What about art, music, movies, exercise, just getting out and about, socialising (in all its forms), all other beneficial interests – and even time for a bit of mindless telly?!
I guess if you’re a Pro, that’s your job and you’re making money off of it, but an amateur is literary a person in love with it. I think I’m okay the way I am.