childhood

Looking Back: The Hour Glass

The longer he lived, the more his life took on the metaphor of an hour glass, its sand slipping away, quickening, now greater below than above. Unlike the glass, there’s no way of resetting life.

He saw his moments, those grains, as equal, not one larger than another. The highs and lows, the same now: irrelevant. Somewhere beneath the pile lay his childhood, a happy time only he knew. He imagined that when the last grain had dropped, the family would pack it away amongst his other miscellanies. Until a time when it’s rediscovered and its meaning completely forgotten.

(99 words)


Written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community Flash Fiction Challenge Prompt.

“In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a character who looks back. It can be a metaphorical reflection or a glance in the rear-view mirror. Who is looking back, and why? Go where the prompt leads.”

An hour glass can be considered in different ways. Someone may see it as a metaphor for life, another may see it objectively, a device to measure an hour by utilising gravity, some may see it as just an anachronistic curiosity.

Similarly it could be said for a fictional story, I suppose. An element of autobiography, an observation of another’s view, a simple play around with a common trope. Perhaps all of these and more.

There isn’t a glass large enough to hold all the grains of our imagination. Still, once it’s gone, it’s gone. Write it all down.

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A Personal History of Time in Four Objects

Early on, I had a bedside alarm clock: a round, wind-up thing with hands of luminous pale green painted on by poor factory workers, and who might have succumbed to disease and died before their time for their efforts. It seems a high cost to allow strangers to see the time without needing to turn on a light.

Someone then gave me a travel alarm clock. I had yet to travel and had no prior thoughts of doing so being, as I was, not quite ten years old. It seemed an odd contraption: the square body of a wind-up clock attached to the lid of a hinged box by another hinge, so that the three hinged parts could fold in and enclose the clock part. Opened out, it formed a triangle with the base of the box being the base of the clock. The alarm, I remember, wasn’t that loud. Perhaps it’s quieter where people with travel clocks go.

I bought myself a radio alarm clock. Some mornings it would wake me with the sounds of the show before the Breakfast Show; other times I’d be woken by static. The tuning was unreliable and the threat of it malfunctioning on important days kept me awake at night. Then the cat took it upon himself to chew the aerial off. It was just a length of wire hanging down and it must have aroused the cat’s curiosity and so he bit it off gradually by degrees. He never touched the mains cable which also hung down with it. Curiosity didn’t kill that cat, not that time anyway.

The personal tablet is the Swiss Army Knife of the age: if you need something doing, someone has probably devised an app to do it. For it, the alarm clock is a cinch. You can be woken by any number of pleasant or hideous ringtones, or you can choose your favourite song, but be mindful that this can become like Bill Murray’s morning in Groundhog Day; it’s probably better to select “random” from a given playlist. Or you can have the radio. You can have the radio broadcast out of Toronto, Timor or Timbuktu. Be aware that it’s likely not to be first thing in the morning there.


inspired by the brilliant History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor (BBC)

Radio Days

I’ve been watching a BBC iPlayer programme about Reggae and David Rodigan. Rodigan is the white, Oxfordshire born guy who “looks like a dentist” and has dedicated his long career to promoting Reggae music in the UK and, it appears, all over the world. He is much respected in Jamaica too.

I remember Rodigan on the radio during the 80s. He would be on the car radio, broadcasting out of Capital FM, a new commercial station for London. It brings back good memories of driving through the city in my first car, streets tinged with the orange glow of low pressure sodium lights, and maybe some reflecting drizzle, and the radio, with Rodigan, emitting this swell of warm, exotic, heavy rhythms and beats interspersed with reverberating, and sometimes intriguingly incomprehensible, soundbites and jingles. And Dub and “Version-Excursion”.

I had heard Jamaican music before this. My uncle’s fabulous collection of records included The Wailers’ Catch A Fire at about its time of release. There was, very occasionally, ska and reggae records in the pop charts earlier too. One memory I have is from Junior School, sitting near the front of a coach for an educational trip and being kept waiting for some reason. The coach driver turned on the radio and the first song we heard was Desmond Dekker and The Aces, Israelites, and my friend and I tried to sing along. Yes, it was a bit get up in the morning wantin’ my breakfast; me ears are alight; and you’re too beefhead, but I remember it well.

But Rodigan made me want to buy the records: Johnny Osbourne, Pablo Gadd, Barrington Levy, Burning Spear, and Black Uhuru are a few names who come to mind and, of course, Gregory Isaacs and Dennis Brown.

It pains me sometimes that I don’t listen to enough music now. In my youth, I’d immerse myself in music and into my 40s, I’d still be listening almost daily, and my very first blog venture was musically themed. Reggae is just one of the genres I loved to hear. I’m going to try listening to more music again. New year’s resolutions!


Reggae Fever: David Rodigan (BBC)

Portrait of the artist as a boy

Thinking about expression and expressive arts.

All art can be expressive but I could think of only three which fundamentally require external evaluation; singing, poetry and cooking. Others can be done in secret, away from the public eye, simply for one’s own enjoyment. Fun is 97% of the reason for doing it, bearing in mind I haven’t had the need to make a living by doing it, being an amateur, by definition doing it for love and just that.

It has to be said, I have no ambition for my creativity.

“What are you trying to achieve?”, asked a tutor. Though specifically about one piece of work, it made me think about all of it.

“To enjoy myself”, I would reply now.

What do we remember of creativity when we were kids? We worked freely, expressively, without much self-consciousness. Or ambition. Was it us who asked the teacher to pin our piece up on the wall, or ask our folks to put it on the fridge door? I don’t remember that at all. We worked, it was fun, and when it was done, it was done. Success or failure, if we considered those, they were just passing moments; irrelevant to the great plan. Though I doubt there was ever a great plan.

Growing up, we are told there is external value to all that we do. Often that the achievement must be monetary. I have been told I ought to frame some of my pictures, exhibit them and offer them for sale. But that work is extra work and it is not art work, so I haven’t much enthusiasm for it; no love at all.

I am an amateur. From the Latin, amator, meaning lover, and amare, meaning to love. When you look up the word amateur now, it means unpaid, unprofessional or ineptly done. It’s as if the world doesn’t appreciate love as motivation now, only money.

In pursuit of happiness

I see there’s a trend for saying happiness isn’t something that can be pursued or sought. You have to let go of that idea and somehow happiness will happen, all by itself.

That sounds too much like waiting at any arbitrary bus stop and expecting a bus to arrive eventually bearing the destination, Never-Neverland.

I think maybe the problem is Happiness is not really understood and no one actually knows how to achieve it and there are always those who, for esteem or money, or possibly both, will persuade you into buying their magic roadmap. Like the old Irish joke about tourists asking a local man for directions, he always tells them, “Well now, I wouldn’t advise you to be setting off from here”.

So what is Happiness, assuming it actually exists, assuming it’s one thing, and common to all sensibilities?

I wonder, hypothetically of coirse, whether God is happy. Not He of the Abrahamic faiths for sure, at least not most of the time judging by the holy books. Curmudgeonly, disappointed and dissatisfied, it paints a likely portrait of the archetypal Perfectionist creator (see earlier post). Not a happy being, perhaps.

But if He is Happy, could it be down to His omniscience? How can we ever know that? But at the opposite end of the spectrum, we believe in the happiness of childhood, the age of innocence and naivety. Ignorance is bliss, we hear.

Consider Thomas Gray’s poem, Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College. Apparently, Gray was never happier than when he was at school, though ironically a place he was sent to to learn stuff. Here’s the end lines where he gives us the famous phrase,

To each his sufferings: all are men,
Condemn’d alike to groan—
The tender for another’s pain,
Th’ unfeeling for his own.
Yet, ah! why should they know their fate,
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies?
Thought would destroy their Paradise.
No more;—where ignorance is bliss,
‘Tis folly to be wise.

Who knows? Philosophy is folly or a consolation, or salvation, in an inescapable process of loss of innocence; it’s not easy unknowing the things we know by the process of simply living in a complicated societal world. So should you give up? Not on your nelly, I think.


Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College

The Why?

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.”

“Why?”

“Because they might be tired standing up.”

“Why?”

“Because they might have been standing up for a very long time.”

“Why?”

“Maybe they had to go shopping.”

“Why?”

“To buy you spaghetti hoops, and banana yoghurt and gingerbread men!”

(A pause; a quantum of hope, but then,)

“Why?”


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?”.


Photos by Markus Spiske and Louis Blythe on Unsplash.

Comics and Philosophical Ideas

I loved comics as a kid. The choice in comics was broad and I favoured The Beano mostly, and often its big sister comic, The Dandy. Yet there were others I liked too, Beezer, Topper, Chips to name just three.

In the comic, I had my favourite characters too, as I expect everyone did. Now, I think how clever some of those characters were and how they could sow a seed of intellectualism and philosophical thought in the mind of an innocent child. My favourite of these would be the regular comic strip, The Numskulls, which featured originally in The Beezer.

The idea of homunculi controlling our mind and bodies is an old one. I’m sure at least once you’ve imagined sitting inside your own head, looking out through the windows of your eyes and listening to all the extraneous sounds coming in from the holes on each side. No? Just me then.

In The Numskulls, “our man” is observed going about some ordinary task or involved in some everyday business. He seems totally unaware of his own homunculi and the control they have over his senses, reactions and his subsequent actions. The irony is that we the readers get a cutaway view of the man’s head where we see it partitioned into departments, in each of which resides a homuncule with a specific duty. In the comic they have been given funny names; Blinky (Eye Dept.), Luggy (Ear Dept.), Snitch (Nose Dept.), Brainy (Brain Dept.) and two more, whose names escape me for the moment, in charge of the Mouth Dept. Each department is in communication with others by telephone and so collectively can influence and manipulate their man’s every move.

The odd thing is that they don’t appear to be intent on doing this all the time. It’s as if there’s a counter-intuitive struggle between what the man goes to do and what his Numskulls suggest he does instead. The humour of the strip always comes from the man’s apparent bewilderment at what just happened, why he did something different to what was intended.

This probably all boils down to the philosophical idea of free will, and whether we have it, or not. Now there’s a thought for a small boy chuckling over his favourite comic strip.

Malcolm Judge – cartoonist and creator of The Numskulls