Life Stuff

Five Things: Stress busting

Five things I might do to reduce stress or anxiety? A prompt from Dr. Tanya at Salted Caramel.

1. Drawing (or painting)

Or doodling. I’ve always drawn. If I see a pencil, I pick it up; it feels good in my fingers. I find there is nothing quite like drawing to take my mind off and away into a different sphere of consciousness for a couple of hours.

2. Walking

I first started to walk as a teen, having to wait for buses which never came. This is London’s suburbia. You’d take a chance walking on to the next stop, the fare would be cheaper. Then, if still no sign of a bus, on to the next stop. Occasionally, you’d arrive at your destination before the bus. Then you’d work out there were shortcuts the bus couldn’t take. It was enjoyable. You’d start to walk everywhere and at anytime: homewards from parties, well after midnight, the streets were safer back then.

Though it’s better here in the countryside. Nature, fresh air. A two hour walk can get a lot of weight off your mind.

3. Getting it down on paper

Working it out; order; making a list; sketching it out; any graphical representation of a problem. Seeing it more clearly. Owning it. Mastering it.

4. Yoga

Most rigorous exercise will help, I find, but there’s something intensely focussing about yoga practice which makes you forget about what’s happening elsewhere.

5. Tasking

Often, if I just say, “I’ll at least do these three things today”, no matter how simple they seem, the satisfaction of having crossed them off the to-do list is tremendous. It might be tackling the unruly garden hedges, it might be tidying a neglected room, or a workbench or a desk, it might be making that important call, it might be remembering to do one of those things above.


image: “The Desperate Man” (self-portrait) by Gustave Courbet

O, Pinterest!

I opened a Pinterest account some years ago as it looked a good site to collect inspirational images. I was taking painting and printmaking classes, but also rekindling my interest in art generally.

As with most of these things, I got to the point where I’d saved all the things of interest and fewer additions were being made. I still go there from time to time and the email notifications and suggestions keep coming in.

But what’s this!, and what possibly could I have done on the web recently to warrant it?

It’s tough being a man in today’s world, then. I suppose they’re grateful advice is readily on hand these days, unlike before when you had to resort to a letter to some Agony Aunt (never an Uncle) in a tabloid paper or dodgy magazine.

Let’s see, the top left depends on whether you’re the man answering the police detective’s questions or asking them. And the state of your socks.

The top right is easy: it’s his shoes! A gentleman never wears brown in town…

(all right, second go: the lady’s handbag is vulnerable to snatch thieves on mopeds and the bloke is unprepared, slouching along with his hands in his pockets, anxious about his shoes. He should be Sir Galahad, taking up the right side, sword hand free. Unless he’s left handed, whereby they’re no doubt walking in the wrong direction and he should take her gently by the shoulders, turning her 180° and going back the way they came.)

The number 1 grooming mistake is having your temples shaved. That’s a give away. When has any man asked for a short back and sides and a little off the temples, please? That’s bound to be in 10 grooming tips every man should know. The others include avoiding barbers who wear Dr. No style thick black rubber gloves (maybe okay in the pandemic crisis only).

No. 1 easy thing to do to become more attractive is to wear a crash helmet when riding a motorcycle because no one finds brains on the tarmac a turn on. Unless he wants to attract sirens, though not the kind who draw sailors to their death.

The one which has “be the best dressed but never overdressed” has a head for a logo sporting a waxed handlebar moustache. Irony?

My curiosity is up but I dare not click on any of those links else what will they suggest for me next.

Fandango’s Provocative Question #80

“Is the concept of “you” continuous or does the past “you” continually fade into the present and future “you”? Considering that your body, your mind, and your memories are changing over time, what part of “you” sticks around?”

The concept of me is, I think, the only part that sticks around. The “idea” that something identifiable as “me” is moving through a short space of time uninterrupted. Everything else is perceived and probably illusional.

We can’t trust our memories, or the memories others have of us. That’s disappointing, and maybe shocking to start with, but it’s true. What’s really disturbing is the propensity for false memories slipping in unawares. As the molecules of our bodies change over time, memory is the one thing that links the previous versions of us with the present version.

I feel there are two ways around it without going bananas: accept the truth you’ll never really know who you are (and it doesn’t matter) or just ignore the question entirely.


in answer to Fandango’s Provocative Question #80 here

An irresponsible introvert in blogland

If I get to 100 followers, I’ll strike the plate with the mallet, sending the knob up the tower and striking the round red bell at the top.


Maybe I could phone through for a ten-gun salute. Would the number be in Yellow Pages; under “Celebrations” or “Guns & Ammunition”?


Maybe I’ll bake a cake.


Maybe I’ll duck down an alley; put the pedal to the metal and jump the lights; give them the slip; give the rearview mirror some scrutiny; shake ’em off.


Find a safe house; lie low; in a couple of months, I’ll obtain a new identity.

Smarter Technology For A Dumber Mind

In the local Museum In The Park there is a small room marked “Collections”. In its centre is an antique, glass-topped, mahogany display cabinet with a stack of drawers below. The glass topped display features pages from nature notebooks: drawings and watercolours of plants, pressed ferns and flowers etc., but it is the closed drawers which interest me.

I love these small local museums: they are usually unattended and this invites me to nosy around and be tangibly involved with the exhibits, something you may not feel free to do in a national museum.

How many visitors open these drawers? Not many, I bet myself. Sliding the uppermost one open, it reveals a collection of small seashells in little boxes. The next one down has larger shells. I go for broke and pull on the bottom drawer thinking, who would bother crouching down to try this if they wouldn’t even bother with the top ones? It doesn’t yield to any amount of tugging. It’s not locked as there is no keyhole; the antique wood has expanded over the years and has wedged its drawer tight.

I try the one above which opens with difficulty. It contains prehistoric tools: an array of delicate looking needles, flint arrow heads and spear heads, scrapers, a great stone axe blade, and a huge, smooth pebble-like stone blunt at one end which looks as if it may have been a mallet or a hammer. There are several pieces of antler, horn and bone too but it’s not clear what these were for.

I stare down at the tools, imagining the minds of the people who made and used them, how their intelligence, perception and awareness compared to ours. It’s easy to believe they were inferior minds, naive, childlike in comparison to us but back home, looking into this, I find it might not be true.

There is an academic school of thought which hypothesises man’s intellectual capacity peaked millennia ago and has since been in decline. Even in early hominids with smaller brain cavities, analysis shows these brains to have been as complex as modern man’s.

What’s to blame for our intellectual decline? Well, ironically, probably tool making. The more advanced the technology we use, the less intelligent the user needs to be.

The Luddite and The Intellectual Hermit

A Luddite and an intellectual hermit walk into a pub.

“What will you have, gents?” asks the barman.

“Possibly an aversion to the deceptions of progress,” the Luddite replies.

“Sorry, sir,” says the barman, “we don’t do those fancy cocktails.”

The Luddite

Sorry, that’s a bad twist on an old joke. Two things recently had me thinking about the way of the world today. First was an announcement that the team I work for is invited to experience the developments of another team involved in producing virtual reality solutions. In case we are in any doubt as to what this involves, the email included a couple of images, one showing a scene which could be a screen capture from a very dull video game, and the other some bloke, looking blindly towards the ceiling, wearing a set of Oculus type goggles.

Unusual for me, I can’t raise much curiosity or enthusiasm for the prospect. In my imagination I can predict the illusion of experiencing being on the inside a very bad video game, the trick being the screen’s eye view adjusts according to feedback from the relative position of the goggles. As with a magician’s trick, when you work out how it can be done, it loses all potency to be awesome.

Or, to put it another way, reality does the trick way better: the scene around us is brilliantly rendered, and it all moves about precisely as we move our senses relatively to it. The only thing is we take it all for granted and there’s no smack about the chops moment, no “awesome!”

Though really I feel my slight aversion to this stems from a building annoyance that “expert” people in my field are surrendering their imagination to the machines, and we are obliged to follow suit. I’ve met those now who can’t visualise from concepts and basic drawings – they need to see the 3D model. Visualisation was once an essential skill in the job. In a generation, it will be obsolete.

The Intellectual Hermit

I saw another inspiring article in the news yesterday. It was about hermits. Real life, modern day hermits. Haven’t you ever once in your life contemplated a life as a hermit?

The story focuses on two quite different hermits. The first is Christopher Knight who, in 1986, aged 20, took himself off to a wood in Maine, USA, never to be seen again for 27 years (actually, he did meet a lost hiker once and exchanged a simple “hi”). He lived in a tent, stole what little he needed to survive and thus he was caught in a trap by the police investigating these thefts. He said his decision to hide away was a desire to be alone, free of the world. There was no incident, traumatic, shameful or otherwise, in his previous life which caused this; it was just in his nature.

The second hermit is the Christian, Sara Maitland, who lives alone in a self-built house on a moor in Scotland. The reason she gives for her chosen lifestyle is ecstasy. Solitude is “total joy”, she explains. You know, I can relate to that.

Even so, I don’t think I could handle it for a prolonged length of time, never mind a whole lifetime. It’s not the risk that solitude can easily tip over into loneliness; you could just pack it in and move back. It’s the physical hardship which appears to come with it – working for survival. Unless, like Knight, you steal.

An idea then came to me about intellectual hermits. In his poem, To Althea, from Prison, Richard Lovelace, incarcerated in Gatehouse prison for political dissent in 1642, around the time of our English Civil Wars, writes the final verse,

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage:
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage.
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.

I can’t think of anymore to add to this notion of freedom, in love, soul and mind, except let us contemplate that thought for a while.


On Hermits – why this man became a hermit at 20 (BBC News stories)

To Althea, From Prison (Richard Lovelace, 1642) – (wiki)

images: “Occulus” wearing guy (top) and Sara Maitland, in Scotland (below)

Colour me blue, or green, or anything you like.

Prof. Brian Cox’s recent documentary series, The Planets, on our solar system neighbours was brilliant though short and sweet. It’s on the iPlayer for the best part of a year so watch it if you can. It’s mind boggling and it makes me think how could there possibly be life anywhere else. As for humanoid aliens, especially ones which speak fluent English with American accents, no chance!

As I watched it n the BBC app, it threw up some other suggestions I might like and one of those is a documentary about colour. I watched two episodes and it’s okay, maybe a bit superficial scientifically but entertaining and well produced (link below).

The funny thing about colour is it probably doesn’t exist. Or, I should say, it didn’t exist until life developed eyes. And not all eyes: the earliest eye probably only distinguished between light and dark; then there are eyes which only see in monochrome shades. Even the human eye is limited, only able to detect light within the band known anthropologically as visible light. Only some critters, it is thought, see beyond that.

And even within the so-called visible light, different people see different colours. This idea came home to me this week when I was looking over a drawing with a colleague. It showed a floor plan of a building where each of the rooms was coloured corresponding to its use. A key to the side of the drawing explained what each colour meant bit there were so many room uses that some of the colours were indistinguishable at a glance.

My colleague pointed to a room and said it wasn’t clear what kind of room it was; it could, he said, be either one or other shades of green. This struck me as odd. I couldn’t determine which type of room it was either but to my eyes the colour was definitely one of the two shades of blue.

Admittedly it wasn’t lapis lazuli, more the colour of a clear morning sky with a little pollution. But it wasn’t green, no way. Or was it?

I had an odd notion that I could reproduce near enough the exact colour by mixing primaries, blue, red and yellow – pigments, not light, of course. But then the colleague would agree it was mixed perfectly, but he would still see it as green.

So, remember, when we’re visited by those little green men from outer space, they might actually be blue. Or, quite possibly to their eyes, deep x-ray-ultraviolet.


image (top): No. 61 (rust and blue) by Mark Rothko

Colour: The Spectrum of Science (BBC TV)

The Unfathomable Workings of Memory

“Warner!”
The name just popped effortlessly into my consciousness like a long forgotten disc might drop randomly onto the platter of a mechanical jukebox. It made me feel like dancing…

He used to be this guy I worked alongside decades ago and, up until now, I could only remember him as Tom. His face, however, remains as a composite of several similar faces I have met over the years and will stay so, unless I happen to see him again. It’s unlikely and as the passing years have grown long, soon I’m wondering if he is still alive. I believe there’s a good chance but probably I’ll never know.

I did try to Google his name and scrolled down, as much as I could bear, looking for a recognisable face amongst the endless mugshots of strangers. Unless you’re searching for the bleeding obvious, search engines are an utter disappointment now, a complete waste of effort. Too superficial, populist and trivial. Like the arm-banded kid too afraid of the deep end.

The point about Tom, why I remember him, albeit vaguely, is that he was a rare deep guy. Even in the twiggy branch of the knowledge industry in which we were employed, he impressed me with his erudition and free-thinking. He was an interesting guy to talk with.

But how and why does the memory do that; why does it play such games. I hadn’t forgotten his name, as I thought for years, it was just misplaced somewhere in the grey matter. Buried. And, yes, jammed: I could almost sense a physical blockage and the frozen cogwheels up there if ever I try to recall a name or a word. Memory is a mysterious function but I bet Tom Warner would understand something about it.

Oh, no!

Sheesh! I hope I don’t live to regret it but I’ve accepted a bit of work, succumbing to a little flattery from those responsible. I find, when sat at a desk, working, I have more moments of inspiration for blogging but less time to write anything up. Still, with an hour’s commute at each end of the day, I’m listening to more music.

I can’t say too much about the job but It’s the usual “fools rush ahead” fiasco and something about it put me in mind of the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke – that’s a levee thing for holding back the sea.

Googling it, I’m surprised to find it isn’t a Dutch story at all but an American myth. It’s a story within a story and features in the 1865 novel, Hans Brinker, or, The Silver Skates: A Story of Life in Holland, by American writer, Mary Mapes Dodge.

The poor boy isn’t named but the story goes that when walking past a section of dyke, he discovers a hole and bungs a finger in thus saving the whole of Holland from a tragic flood. He remains there all night, freezing cold, until the grown-ups come looking for him, rescue him and fix the hole.

So, that was me this week, feeling like an unnamed boy with a finger in the hole. But nobody came to rescue me.


In my first week at work, I was invited to go “plogging” at lunchtime. This is, apparently, where you go jogging and pick up any litter and rubbish you see on the way.

What will they come up with next? “Blogging”, where you run along, thinking up daft things to post?

Talking to Strangers

Thanks to umanbn (Mark Hodgson) – whose drawings blog I follow – for highlighting the Humans of New York project, which is fascinating. Brandon Stanton is a photographer who explains the project in his “About” page;

“Humans of New York began as a photography project in 2010. The initial goal was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers on the street, and create an exhaustive catalogue of the city’s inhabitants.”

In essence, he takes someone’s portrait in the street and gets them to tell their story, a little bit about themselves, and transcribes it below their picture. I see some of those guys are really keen to talk. They must feel a need to tell their story. It’s probably a good deal.

What began in NY has now extended beyond the US; I’ve been reading a few pieces from within Europe. People from all over, happily talking to a stranger with a camera.

I don’t know if he’s approached any Londoners. It’s been a while since I thought about myself being a Londoner but casting my thoughts back, I’m not sure many would easily reveal their personal history to a complete stranger. We hardly dare make eye contact. London is a busy, crowded place and you have to create a kind of privacy within.

It reminded me of a time in my youth when I had to use the public bus to get to work. Normally, you’d look for two empty seats together so you sat alone; if there wasn’t any, you might prefer to stand in the aisle rather than take a seat beside a stranger. But sometimes you’d take a chance, especially if the journey was long.

So I sat down besides this guy, a very vocal, slightly drunk, probably, middle-aged Irishman, and he immediately began telling me his life story. When he felt he’d exhausted that subject, he went on to tell me my own life expectations – even though he didn’t know me from Adam! He invented all kinds of bollocks, all of it implausible. I mean, I ought to be famous by now, as rich as Croesus, and a great political statesman to boot. It was excruciating at the time – but funny afterwards.


I’ve just remembered, our BBC have done a similar thing with The Listening Project, a series of short interlude pieces recorded for radio. I think they set up a recording booth in a chosen place and people go in, often in pairs, to talk about themselves.

The whole world wants an opportunity to talk, it seems. They ought to start a blog.


Humans of New York

The Listening Project (BBC)

image of two people on bench in Osaka, Japan, by Andrew Leu via Unsplash.com