happiness

The Joy of a Random Segue and of Reading at Odd Moments at Work

On Music

I’ve said I’m back working. Just for a bit, hopefully, as I realise I am genetically unsuited to it. However, as into each life a little rain must fall, so too does every cloud have its silver lining.

In the hour long drive at each end of the day, I’m enjoying listening to my playlist again. Ever since I owned a car and had audio fitted – a twenty-five quid diy job for my first car, I remember – I’ve always loved listening to music while driving. At the start, it was tape cassettes; a fiddly process at the best of times and always a risk of the machine chewing up your favourite recording. Thank Apollo! for digital and the invention of the USB memory stick, a thing half the size of a thumb which holds 750+ songs and that’s only half its capacity. I plug it in the car’s audio and request “Shuffle” and it plays my favourite songs in a random order.

I could make my own playlists, as I did with cassettes. The problem with this, for a perfectionist like me, is getting the segues right so that the mood of the music flows. This is not as simple as it sounds and it’s a good reason to leave it up to the mindless machine. However, even the uncultured gadget occasionally delivers beautiful segues and makes me think, I must make a note of that. But I never do. I haven’t worked out how to make notes while driving along.


On Reading

I’ve also started to grab an odd moment at work to read. This might mean the last ten or fifteen minutes at the end of lunch. It’s easy to think, ah, ’tisn’t worth getting out the book, or tablet, for such a short time, but I’ve found it is.

Reading at different times of the day and in different environments is surprisingly a different experience to normal, I find. Habitually, I tend to read last thing at night. Contrary to what experts say about reading off an illuminated tablet, I don’t find it induces insomnia. I actually find I’m nodding off and though I’m following the text, there’s a point when I’m not taking anything in. This isn’t really a good way to read at all but, in a busy day, it’s the only time regularly available.

At work, I find these moments where there isn’t much else to do. It’s not time to get back to the grindstone but lunch is eaten and I’ve done all my personal chores like checking my finances, answering personal emails, and shopping. It may be just ten minutes but out comes the iPad and I kick back and read a few paragraphs, and I realise it’s a different kind of joy. And whatever it is I’ve read stays firm in my mind, which is what it’s all about, isn’t it?


image of person reading by Blaz Photo via Unsplash.com

Don’t mess with Mr. In-between

The idea of the grass being greener on the other side, and its close cousin, the “what if?”, both of which inspired my previous, flash-fiction post, leads me somehow to think about a theme song for this blog. Blogs ought to have a theme song, don’t you think?

And I’ll let you into a secret; there are times when I tear myself apart keeping my posts away from being downbeat. I’ve actually written lots of stuff about politics, irritations, wrong-headedness and all the rest we inevitably come across, and I bin it straight after. Or, if there’s a particular thing I liked within it, it goes into Drafts, blogging’s purgatory corner or naughty step – and then, after a while, when the Drafts are beginning to look like forming their own breakaway blog, I purge with malice gusto.

It came to me in a flash – where flashes come from is a mystery – something I had once on vinyl from the soundtrack of Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective. And here it is for your delectation,

Composer, Harold Arlen, really puts some swing into it which is irresistible, and which compensates favourably, in my opinion, for Bing’s naturally lugubrious baritone. If it wasn’t for The Singing Detective introducing me to this, I might opt instead for the Johnny Mercer version, but The Andrews Sisters make a sweeter contrast in Bing’s version than The Pied Pipers do in Mercer’s. Johnny Mercer, by the way, wrote the lyrics.

Anyway, that’s my theme tune and if I can get it to play every time you visit my blog, I’ll be a very happy man. Be sure to sing along…


(hmmm, you know the more I play it, the more I like Johnny Mercer’s upbeat voice. Might have to change the theme…)

Transition #writephoto

a flash-fiction piece

All the time when we lived opposite and she was alive, I would envy the woman her house across the courtyard from mine. It was serene: the wonderful stone gable, the stout, reliable oak door, and a small, teak garden bench for sitting out, catching the morning sun, while my own was cast in morbid shadow. Then, in the afternoon, when my half was scorched in a blistering oppression of the merciless sun’s heat, hers was sheltered, and shady, and cool. I’d notice her seating outside, on her bench, under her window, sipping wine, or maybe some cold cordial; a book open upon her lap. She was often smiling; contented.

And then she died. A brief illness, I don’t know what. An ambulance came one day last Spring and took her away, and the next thing I knew about it was the agent’s man coming around to fix up a board. “For Sale”. Of course, I bought it; a ridiculous price but I had to have it, see? After all those years, looking out upon it.

There is a new family in my old house now. Two children play in the courtyard after school, in the afternoon sunshine, while the couple cuddle up on my old bench, under my old window. They are always laughing. Sometimes they notice me looking out and they give a little wave, and occasionally mime a friendly “hello”. They seem happy and at home, in my old house, and I envy them.

(287 words)


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Transition”

The Opportunities of Old-Age

a writing prompt piece

As a freelancer, I moved around, but there were one or two places I’d return to because they were better places to work. In one such place there worked these two guys. They were of a similar age, worked in the same team and were, in every sense, workmates, almost companionable. They were both humorous, and one especially so. Often they were like a comedy duo, The Odd Couple, Laurel and Hardy, that kind of thing.

Well, I left and then went back and only one of them was still there. The funnier one had retired. In fact, both had reached retirement age but the remaining one had negotiated to stay on, part-time, two days a week. He told me, it got him out of the house; out from under his wife’s feet; gave him something to do; earn a little pocket money. I thought he was crazy. I’d watch him at his desk looking disengaged. Occasionally his eyes would droop, and then close. At four-thity on the dot, he would go home.

Then one day the other guy popped in. He was passing the office and thought he might as well show his face; it was a face beaming from ear to ear. He said something funny which I’d heard before. He said, looking back, he didn’t know how he ever found the time to go to work. In retirement, his hours were fuller, and, I had the impression, with a greater sense of purpose and enjoyment than when he had to work.

Working is for mugs. The trouble is, we’re all mugs and there’s little to be done about it. Just don’t plan to be a mug all your life.

(284 words)


written for Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie’s Tale Weaver prompt #222 – “The Opportunities of Old Age”

Gender

a flash-fiction piece

Felicity and Ben make the perfect couple. When they set up home, Felicity brought the tools. She’d followed her father and took a plumber’s apprenticeship. Over time, working alongside other trades, she’d picked up skills like carpentry, bricklaying, rendering and plastering. She rarely shied away from dirty work; she was strong. She was persuaded to try out for the women’s rugby team, which she enjoyed.

They’d met in the library where Ben worked: some pipes needed replacing. He’d brought in brownies he’d baked for the other librarians and offered her one. She accepted; it was love at first sight.

(99 words)


written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community Flash Fiction Challenge, 18 April – “Gender”

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about Gender. It can be fixed or fluid. Explore the topic on your own terms and open your mind to possibilities and understanding. Go where the prompt leads!

Capsulized Wardrobe, Sir?

As a fish of the species Carpio Minimalis, I’m a sure sucker for articles on streamlining life. This one on “capsule wardrobes” drew my attention. (I didn’t read it thoroughly, the site is one of those interrupted with irritating pop-pops which cut across my grain; I just read enough to grab the idea and run.)

I think it’s a great idea though not a novel one. Many of the good and great, and I dare say a few bad ones, have adopted an efficient wardrobe method, reducing the time wasted in choosing what to wear on any ordinary day and avoiding the meltdown when it comes to the special occasion.

In a nutshell, the concept with the capsule wardrobe is to throw out the crap and leave only that which is deemed beforehand to be desirable and wearable. In other words, a reasonable system of dressing.

I have made inroads to this core for several years now and for me it works. Let us have a peek into my wardrobe. Note, it is a man’s perspective only…

Socks. Some people, I know, don’t wear them and I’m a little envious, however, in England, I feel these are essential items, for general comfort and against the cold. Can I, though, be forgiven for regarding those who wear colourful and comical socks with a bit of derision? What are they trying to do?

My choice is to settle on a plain sock of a particular colour and wear only those. Honestly, nobody is watching your socks and nobody cares. Though black isn’t the perfect colour, I have chosen it because it is pretty ubiquitous in the socks department. Grey may be better but black is absolute and more available. The extra advantage is you’ll never have more than one odd sock.

Shoes. Honestly, if shoes were indestructible, I’d probably be happy with one pair. As they’re patently not, it’s prudent to have a reserve pair for when things go wrong. Three pairs is an extravagance but acceptable. Four or more is utterly insane. Normally, I reach for my favourite pair, always.

I am just talking about everyday shoes. Obviously, other footwear is necessary for different purposes like hiking, exercising, rough work and indoor wear.

Shirts. There is something simple which sets the polo shirt high above its poor relation, the common t-shirt: its collar. Yet it is equally as comfortable. I think the collar gives it more versatility. Subtle patterns or weaves are okay but I tend to avoid stripes. Stripes tend to suggest something which may be unintended; they can also play havoc with body shape. Again, when opting for plain shirts, nobody’s watching, nobody cares.

Polo shirts are so plentiful, you can pick them up in the sales. I tend to buy several colours at a time, which does cause a modicum of angst when choosing which to put on in the morning, but I usually go with the mood of the day or what I intend to get up to. Like, if I’m thinking of cooking a tomato ragu or a curry sauce, I’m not going to pick out the white shirt.

Navy and black are good colours for sombre and sober events, like funerals or interviews, worn under a suitable jacket or sweater. White carries off pretty well too, under the same outer clothes, for slightly less serious occasions, or on its own in hotter weather. I steer clear of colours under the jacket to avoid the holiday camp entertainments representative, or the slightly dodgy secondhand car salesman look. Consideration applies to suitability of colours to the complexion: I couldn’t pull off wearing yellow, for instance. Reds just about work but any shades of grey, brown, blue or green suit me like leaves on a tree, so I tend to go for those.

Trousers. Everyone lives in jeans, why fight it? A pair of smart trousers in reserve is all I need.

Underpants. Ha ha. Who cares? Who sees? Why should you care who sees? Pick a comfortable brand, pick a readily available colour, buy in bulk. Nobody cares!

Now the things I’ve decided I don’t want are suits and ties. Ties are utterly too useless and if I ever find I need a suit – probably by an invitation I can’t refuse – I will cross that bridge when I come to it, possibly by hiring an extremely decent suit rather than keeping a cheap chain store one in the cupboard. I don’t see it happening to be honest.

I hope that was a fun peek. Here’s that article I mentioned above, if you can stand the pop-ups,


How To Build A Capsule Wardrobe

image by Andrej Lišakov via Unsplash.com

One hello and two goodbyes

I have written before how I could become in time one of the last sons of Middlesex. I mention this because recently I have seen photographs of this once agrarian county of England being consumed by the creeping tide of a London expansion. Suburbia was to be its new crop, perennial and unyielding, though eventually showing signs of going to seed. Looking over these photos of precise grids of similar houses, of clean, barren streets between orderly rows of little shops, I feel sadness even though I never knew its countryside. I imagine the farms and the people working the fields, and the villagers, self-contained and neighbourly, and their children playing in the streams and brooks, under a broad, open sky.

Samuel Johnson once said, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life“. But I bet he never lived or worked in its suburbs.

They say that the entire human population can be housed in average sized family homes, with a small garden, in a suburb not much larger than Texas. I think this would be a good idea. And we could all go to work in Oklahoma, leaving the rest of the planet to be “rewilded”. Or at least managed in a sustainable, close to natural way.

I, myself, had a desire to leave as early as ten years old but had to endure it a further fifteen years. Yet, after a further quarter of a century in my adopted home, I can see the invasiveness of urban culture around me. Expansion seems inevitable, grace, peacefulness and beauty is discounted and up for grabs. Our government has promised 300,000 new build homes each year to solve a “crisis”; it’s not clear for how many years.

Idealist, or fantasists, I’m not quite sure, talk of going to Mars. It may come to that and I feel as sad for that generation to come as I do for the generation I imagined in the old photos, losing their lifestyle, their future and their culture. For progress.


Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #65.

Middlesex was an English county, known as a “Home County” for being close to London, the capital and traditional seat and home of the monarchy. In 1965, it was divided between Greater London and neighbouring counties; it ceased to be although addresses containing Middlesex were valid until the introduction of national alpha-numerical “post codes” made this inclusion unnecessary.

The name derives historically from the domain of the Middle-Saxons, the collective immigrant/ invaders/raiders (along with the Angles and other Germanic peoples) who came to rule some time after the Romans, around the 5th Century and up until the Norman conquest in the 11th Century.

The radical north-west suburban expansion into what was coined “Metroland” on account of the above ground extensions of the London Underground rail networks, began in the early twentieth century. Further sprawl was partly contained by the “Green Belt”, a narrow ring of permanent countryside, though this is continually under threat.

In Samuel Johnson’s day, London more or less finished at about Hyde Park.

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.

Thaiku

Thank you for the fall
the bestest season of all
apart from the spring

Here in England, the Autumn can go any kinds of ways. For a few days last week, the sun shone brightly in a clear sky and you could sense its benign radiant heat while the breeze, uncharacteristically, also carried some warmth – in mid October! (Remember, “October can be nice, also.”)

The English – and probably the British by extension – are known to complain about the weather and, god knows, we have enough of it to complain about; if heat is not your thing, there are those days to complain about; if you hate the cold, your opportunity will come soon. If you miss the rain, or think it too wet, we can cater for those too. We offer a democratic style of objection to climate.

But this Englishman doesn’t complain – well, not much normally. Not only do I think of its inconsistency and variety and not forgetting its moderation, as a blessing but I don’t get why humans take against nature so. The weather was here long before we were. If you don’t like it blame your nomadic antecedents who pitched up, threw away their bivouacs and tents and took to farming. They must have recognised the benefits.

Nature, if we imagine it to be anthropomorphic, would regard humanity as an adult might regard a petulant child. You know, the kid you might see in a café or restaurant, first adamantly wanting pizza, and then not wanting it the moment it arrives. That’s the English with their weather.

The seasons are not as complicated and more inevitable. There can be a few surprises, as we’ve had this month, but the cycle of seasons ultimately prevails. Yet each season as it emerges from the previous one and goes on to merge into the next, gives us its special beauty. These wonderful experiences are things we ought to embrace psychologically, not fight.


image: untitled photo by Chris Lawton via Unsplash.com

Give me a straight line any day

Last night, I watched Last Bus To Woodstock, the seventh episode of Inspector Morse. To give you the gen, this is a British police telly drama, set in Oxford, and which ran for 33 episodes, over eight seasons for 13 years; each film-length episode runs for almost 2 hours, so that’s a lot of time investment. I have also caught up with the much newer UK police series, Unforgotten, on the “catch up” app and now I’m on the current season showing every Friday. The thing about all these police-crime solving telly dramas is they are very cyclic in nature. With each episode, and with each series/season, the story begins just like the last one.

We should be happy with that and I think we are. Lots of things in nature go about in cycles: day and night, the moon, the Earth around the Sun, the comets around the Solar System, the Solar System around the Universe and the Universe, for all we know, goes regularly around a flying turtle called Derek. We cannot get away from cyclic events so we may as well accept this fact and enjoy it.

But with me there is a rub. The thing I never liked about work was the dailiness of it. You get up, you go into work, you work, you go home, you go to bed, you get up, you go into work….. whaaaa!

Not only this but the work itself, and I’m sure I can’t be alone, is excruciatingly cyclic. You get one project out the door and what next? In comes another, much the same as the last, and the process is the same, on and on, until they give you a small party and a clock. Yeah, and that clock.

So it occurred to me this morning that I must be some kind of Linearist. A natural straight-liner. Entropic, Time’s Arrow, ever forward. I hadn’t the foggiest whether Linearism was a real thing, and I’m still unsure and if it is a thing, whether it applies to what I’m talking about.

I can’t think it’s never been thought of. Unless we’ve been going around in circles and missed it.