life

Five Questions Answered

Chelsea Owens has tagged me to answer five questions. Here they are,

1. How much chocolate is too much?

I remember the first time I set foot outside Britain, I was on a boat. This was lucky as I wouldn’t have wanted to get my shoes wet. We took the ferry to Holland and onto Amsterdam. Apart from being offered mayonnaise whenever we bought chips (French fries) on the street (in England, it was only ever salt and vinegar) the most amazing cultural shock was that they had actual chocolate shops! Imagine, a shop only selling chocolate.

Now, this wasn’t dainty, little selections of chocolates in a pretty box, like we have now, nor was it offering any number of wrapped branded chocolate bars. The chocolate they sold was presented as big blocks and slabs. From a distance these looked like whole cheeses, and when you told them how much you wanted, they’d actually cut your piece off with a kind of cheese wire, weighed it and wrapped it in butter paper.

There was white chocolate, caramel chocolate, milk chocolate and dark chocolate and all sorts of added stuff to chocolate, nuts and fruit and things. I liked the white best at the time. I’m not saying there was too much chocolate though, in terms of calories and artery clogging saturated fats. There was just a lot of information to take in for a boy fresh out of England.

2. Who would really win: Batman or Superman?

As a kid, I loved super hero comics. There was a specialist shop at the end of our road which sold, amongst other things, imported comics from the States. I know there’s been plenty of movies made in the intervening years but I haven’t really kept up.

The answer to this question is, I think, Batman. He’s a billionaire whereas poor old Clark is having to hold down a job as a lowly reporter for some regional rag. I bet he hasn’t even got gym membership as part of that employment package.

Batman is also tech savvy; he’s got all the gadgets, he’s even got a laboratory. He’s even got somewhere in there where he can change in and out of his bat suit. What’s Superman got? A public telephone booth! There’s not many of those left when everyone has a cell phone. And he must get through a lot of suits, ripping them off like that. And he wears his action clothes under his day ones at all times? Boy, how his suit must stink.

If I remember right, Superman’s ability to fly – or at least leap tall buildings – comes from the fact that his home planet is massive and the difference in gravity is immense. Like when those guys hit golf balls on the moon and they couldn’t find them because they’d probably hit them clean into space. Well, all the time they were fooling around, their bones were disintegrating because the body didn’t need or want to carry around that amount of skeleton anymore. So, Superman, after a year on Earth, would be as puny as any human.

Anyway, Batman has a crystal of green kryptonite tucked into his utility belt, just in case.

3. Why is it always the last place you look?

This is incredibly important. I have learnt the hard way and never again.

I once lost my keys, found them, and then, probably high on success, just kept on looking. It was four days later that I arrived at the conclusion that my efforts were pointless. Had I mislaid my keys again in that period, it might have not been wasted time. Unfortunately, I knew they were in my pocket all the while.

4. What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen European swallow?

I’ll have to admit I didn’t know there was a European swallow. I bet they don’t realise it themselves either. I guess after Brexit we won’t see them ever again. European birds! Coming over here, eating all our flies, sticking their mud nests on the sides of British houses…. (sorry, UK political satire).

I wonder what they would be laden with if they were not unladend. Tiny, little suitcases. What a marvellous thing nature is.

5. Where would you go to find The Meaning of Life?

Well, the best answer I can give is – follow this blog!

But, ha ha, no, I can’t be so brazen and to give you false hope too. Besides, I can only offer the meaning of this life. Mine. You’re better off reading Douglas Adams where the short answer would be Earth.

It may be irrelevant but it’s a fact that at the end of my first job interview, which took place a whole year before HHGG was made public, I was tested by two impromptu questions. “What happens when water freezes?” and “What are six sevens?” I must have given satisfactory answers because I got the job but I now know that to the second I should have said, “Surely, you meant to ask, what are six nines?” because that is the meaning of life, folks.


The idea now is to nominate five bloggers and provide them with five new questions. This is like opening a can of worms: who to choose, who to leave off, will they want to, will those I haven’t chosen really really would have wanted to?

The reason I’ve done this is, in honesty, because I enjoy writing about anything and mostly bloggers need prompts like oxygen. So, in the spirit of writing and prompting, here are five questions open to any writer. Please leave a ping-back or comment below, if you like, and we’ll check it out – that’s guaranteed.

1. A Can of Worms: what would that look like? Literal or metaphorical, I’ll not mind.

2. If you never threw any clothes out ever, what would be the worst mistake found in your wardrobe?

3. Can you compose a haikiddle or riddku (that’s a riddle in haiku form, in case you don’t know) to describe something in your room? I’ll try to guess what it could be.

4. As the motto of the USA is “In God We Trust”, should it adopt a dynastic monarchy, or similar, instead of just letting the people decide its leader?

5. Is it a good idea to take potatoes to Mars?

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The Last of the Wrist Watches

The search on the WP app isn’t at all good but I’m pretty sure I’ve written something about how unnecessary a wrist watch is these days. Well, now the inevitable has happened and the battery powering my wrist watch has died. It’s frozen on six minutes past seven.

It’s a funny thing but when your wrist watch dies is the day you find out how often you look at it. Four times during that day; the little numskull inside my head department put in a request in for knowing the hour. The arm rises, the hand thrusts out, and simultaneously, I glance down, the eyes making contact and… it’s 7.06.

After the fourth time, moments before the end of the day, I took the useless thing off and put it away in a drawer. Throughout the next day, I looked at my bare wrist four times.

What I’m sure I wrote about previously was the two years before my 21st birthday, I never had a watch, and I did okay despite not having constant access to the correct time. I believe even humans with their dumb indoors mentality and general reluctance to commune with nature’s clues, can at least guess the hour within about 30 minutes accuracy either way. I often test myself for amusement and it works. Try it yourself!

So the upshot of this is an unintentional resolution: no more wrist watches for me.


image by James Coleman via Unsplash.com

Smorgasbord Me

Blogger BeetleyPete is currently showcasing some of his favourite followed blogs. It’s interesting to see what ideas bloggers have and I am inspired to give this one a go as it could be fun. (As I think it may be to promote authors, and as I am not one, I will just keep it to this place.)

The request is to write 100+ word responses to five of the 52 prompts listed. For an extra challenge, I dialled the Random Number Generator 1-52 to select the five questions from the list.

12. What is the one ambition that you still have not achieved?

I know the permanent answer to this is a peaceful departure. The old joke which tickled me on hearing went,

“When I die, I want to go like Grandfather, dying quietly in his sleep – and not like his passengers, terrified and screaming behind him on the bus.”

I wonder how we would be if we all knew precisely how and when we would die, whether it would be worse or better, psychologically. Of course, we don’t until near the very end and so we convince ourselves it’s best not to know, and so there’s hope. It’s difficult to view it any other way.

45. What is your favourite vegetable and how do you like it prepared?

I love veggies, and don’t really go in for favourites, but I will say Asparagus. They have to be fresh, and they cannot possibly be too fresh, which means growing your own. Once they’re cut, the sugars begin to starch up and they lose that desired sweetness. The season is quite short in England though, about six weeks, and then the plants need to revive and replenish. Fortunately, we used to grow them and will try to do so again soon.

We’ve tried all kinds of ways to prepare asparagus, and all sorts of dressings, but we always liked simple steaming, and a dollop of yellow butter and freshly ground black pepper over to serve.

They make your pee smell funny, that’s about the only downside.

3. Tell us about your craziest experience.

Looking down the list of prompts, I see this could also be the answer to question 14 because my craziest experience has to be a recurring dream. We all dream but the idea is that we shouldn’t remember them upon waking; this, I’m told, is the healthy option. As a rule, I can’t recall my dreams but during two, separate periods of my life, I have experienced troubling recurring dreams. The latter one in adult life, I can probably explain was triggered by stress. It’s the earlier one that’s a puzzle.

I had it from before I can properly remember much else of my life and came often up until the age of about seven when it completely disappeared. It was a very intense and abstract dream, beginning with just a long sensation of passing blindly along a passage or tunnel. Then suddenly, I’m aware of being in a room full of regular geometric shapes: pyramids, cuboids, cones and cylinders. I am perfectly still in this space though not calm. Then the dream ends. That I can remember this vividly after so many years adds to the mystery. I wonder if it has anything to do with the naturally forgotten experience of being born.

42. What is your favourite music genre and why?

I’ve had so many, I might have had them all. My most recent habit is Jazz though it’s a big field and I can’t say I love all Jazz. The thing I like most about it isn’t so much the composition as the instrumentation. I got into Jazz as an antidote to electric guitar bands, in particular Indie rock/pop which was indistinguishable from any other rock/pop to me. The sound of Miles Davis exquisitely soloing a muted horn was instantly attractive, as was a Joe Morello drum solo, an Oscar Peterson-Count Basie piano duet, and a Dan Berglund augmented double bass intro.

I’ve always loved Jazz, to be fair. I was brought up in the period when Jazz was the go to sound for incidental music on movies and dramas. It was in the air, as much as pop music is now – but it had no longer been youth music and so I had to get youth out of the way first and become educated. Now I like to hear lots of different music but I’d probably put Jazz top of the list.

5. If you were to become invisible for a day what is the one thing you would do?

I have a mischievous character and a healthy amount of curiosity – and I also live in a town which boasts about the excellence of its cctv security below its welcome signs – so such a thing could be like all the Christmases and birthdays happening at once. My immediate thoughts, however, are overwhelmed as to what I could do.

As a foodie, I may find myself in some unaffordable restaurant – unaffordable to me but not them – sampling my way through the menu. Maybe get into a West End show gratis.

I feel a lot of obvious things might actually be disappointing. Peeping into any person’s private life, for instance. I’ll probably stick with a bit of free grub.


inspired by and borrowed from Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Back to Normal

“We just want to go back to some semblance of a normal life that everyone else has”
(Eric Van Balen)

Humans are conservative by nature; they love normal, they desire normal whenever life seems… abnormal. An excess of normal is often seen as being boring.

Normal is the rock on which we build successfully. Normal is the level base upon which we grow, from which we develop. Normal is sane. Normal is rational. Normal produces a healthy intellect, encourages imagination and innovation.

Normal is the calm before a storm, and the calm following a storm (unless on Jupiter where the storms have been raging for thousands of years. For a Jovian, that’s normal).

Normal is peacefulness, a time free of trouble and conflict, unless you’re a child born in Yemen or Syria where war is continuing. Fear is normal.

Normal is routine. A morning begins with fresh coffee, from a pot which has already been cleaned from the previous day’s use, the coffee jar not yet empty, fresh water in the jug, sugar in the sugar pot and clean mugs.

It’s getting ready for work at the right hour. It’s regular work. When I explained to my father-in-law that I worked freelance for short contracts, he was aghast. He’d told me, with some pride, how he’d been with the same firm for forty years. I have known people who started work after university and are still at that same company, the same commute to the same office, the same lunchtime routine, the same time going home. The way the company works, the way it likes to do business, has become second nature. That’s normal. Though in that time, they say they have seen changes. That’s normal.

Normal. Even the sound of the word appears to grind to a standstill.

If you’re an adventurer, if you’re a party goer, if you grab life by the balls, carpe diem, and all that, and you do all this, then that’s normal for you.

Normal is what we want unless that’s all there is, and then we want something else. And that’s normal too.


Written for Reena Saxena’s Exploration Challenge #68 – “Back to Normal”

It’s a train of thought piece which is how posts normally start though it’s not normally how I publish them.

The Upright Creator

Sue Vincent’s comment on The Name of the Cloud That Ate The Sun has me thinking about a creator and its motives.

The idea of God, the creator, of the Abrahamic faiths has Him creating us in his image. This is understandable as we readily create imaginary beings in our own image, or partly so. Intelligent alien life is usually bipedal, with limbs and a head on top with eyes and ears and a multi-functioning mouth – and many of them speak fluent English in an American accent. The popular idea of a robot is also a bipedal machine.

Given that bipeds came last in line, whether it’s creationism or evolution, what gives with all the other stuff which came before? Well, robots might be the clue. Getting the things to stand upright and walk. It’s not easy and with a lot of robotics, this is an unnecessary fancy but it doesn’t stop a lot of technicians struggling with the concept. They will succeed but more because of god than being good designers, I think.

But why would a creator be bipedal, being, as it were, out there in space and existent throughout all time? Why would it need to stand up when there is no up in which to stand?


image from Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam

History, Prehistory and Everything Before and After

Ours is not as bad as H.E. Bates’ Larkin’s house where there was always a TV on in every room, but the one telly we have does seem to be on a lot. Mostly, I tune it out but sometimes it worms its way past my unconscious defence.

As it did yesterday. It was showing a medieval drama, a jousting event where armoured blokes upon armoured horses charged at each other, aiming poles at the other’s delicate body parts. And at other times on foot, hacking at each other with huge broad swords. Apart from the jousting scene, you could tell it was a medieval setting because all the poor people were dressed in sackcloth and rags. A funny thing though, a lot of them were exceptionally clean shaven and had nice haircuts, and all of them had really clean faces and hands, as if they’d just taken a hot bath or shower.

To be fair, I guessed it was a semi-comedy drama. What gave it away, and what drew my attention to the telly in the first place, was during the jousting tournament the crowd were all chanting Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, and in a subsequent scene there was an incongruous electric guitar solo – not acted out in the scene, thank god, but on the soundtrack.


During the above faux historical drama, I had begun listening to another podcast about the planet Venus. Early on in our history, Venus was considered to be Earth’s twin, it being close to Earth’s size as well as being our neighbour (Mars is much smaller). It’s also most noticeable in the sky having a highly reflective atmosphere; it appears as a star. Early on, people imagined it contained life and, as it was closer to the sun, its life would be consistent with that of hot, tropical jungles.

That idea was binned once scientific evidence established how hostile its atmosphere actually is: mostly carbon dioxide and so thick, the pressure at ground level would crush a human being, and so hot it would melt lead. Mars seemed a better bet for life after that.

One of the three scientists giving account of the planet gave a short description of how planets formed around the sun, beginning with a swirling of space dust, eventually sticking together by electromagnetism and then gravity, the sun then reaching ignition point, and the residual turning forces of swirling matter making everything revolve and orbit. For Venus and Earth, the period from adhering and coagulating dust particles to a proper orbiting sphere would be around 100 million years. At that would just be the beginning.


I was thinking about my primary school and how I remembered a lot of lessons about prehistoric life. We began with fossils of trilobites and ammonites, those funny looking segmented and spirally sea creatures, then the fishes and amphibians, and eventually the rise and decline of the reptiles – dinosaurs! – and ending with a few early mammals.

It seems to me now how each of these periods in Earth’s past is a distinct portion of the Earth’s life simply because of the huge passage of time each had taken. The Earth has had many lives, so to speak. It may have many more ahead, possibly without us.

And there I was, marvelling at those significant names from England’s “Dark Ages”, and how they seem to dabble in politics and culture as much as we do, and write books about it all. And, well, yes, but it’s only 1400 years ago. Nothing in time. When we’ve barely 100 years each in which to experience existence, how inconceivable is a passing of a million years!


It’s extraordinary to me to think how Earth has sustained some form of higher life for so long, and mostly, if not all, by chance. What are the odds? Do you think we’ll come face to face with aliens from another planet? Across time and space, as vast and hostile as it appears, and to coincide with our time here?

I don’t.

New Endings and Beginnings

Nearing its end, 2018 has been, for me, a significant year: a milestone birthday, a determination to give up routine work, and a decision, soon to be realised, hopefully, to move home.

We are not moving far, no more than seven miles from where we are now and have been for the best part of twenty years. We had intended to move sooner, sometime around 2008, but there was always something going on (in 2008, it happened to be the banking crisis and the recession, but there were personal things happening as well). Every year seemed to bring with it a doubt as to whether it was the right thing to do.

But there comes a time when you think you’re not going to end up on the proverbial death bed with big regrets, so you sort out those dreams which might be realised and act. Big resolution time!


The justification for our move is food. It would be, wouldn’t it. For years, we kept an allotment, a narrow strip of cultivation rented for a small annual amount – £15, I remember – on which you could grow fruit, vegetables and sometimes flowers for cutting. There are rules and obligations to keeping a plot and this, we felt, wasn’t for us. We simply didn’t have the time and we let it go but the keenness to grow some of our own food remained. So we trust we can begin in the new year with a decent sized garden, and a greenhouse included. Straight from the ground, into the kitchen, and onto the table. There’s not much that can beat that, food-wise.


Moving further away from town, the one thing I think I’ll miss most is the easy walk into town for some casual shopping. It’s not much of a walk, as walks go around here, though I have spotted deer, water voles and the intermittent sighting of a kingfisher, a brief halcyon blue dart heading upstream or down.

Apart from this, I’m happy to leave. With the passing of years, town is reminding me a little too much of the suburbia I left thirty years back – though not as bad as suburbia is now. My regular walks will probably have to be to a pub, about a mile away. It’ll be tough but it’s got to be done.

Blogs (not death) and taxes

Oh no! It seems I have been absent from Blogworld for five days. This is all because we have decided to sell our house and buy another, and though it’s been a long while in planning, it still comes as a shock.

It is said that moving home is one of the most stressful things first world people can experience in life. Fortunately for us, there’s an element of excitement and optimism which goes to counter the bad stuff like legal issues, due taxes, and acquiring all the necessary home buying expertise. Not least, the total chunk of cash which needs to be paid to various parties is eye watering and the lion’s share of all this goes to Her Majesty’s treasury in so-called stamp duty – a tax on the audacity of wanting to own your own home – it’s a wonder her subjects move at all.

Anyway, it probably means I might not be up to reading any of your blogs, or even writing in mine, until that particular fat lady sings. The idiomatic fat one I mean, not the Queen, god bless her.

#writeprompt – Stark

It’s as if the sky, clenching its strong hands
cannot contain the fluidity of
the sun: breeching and renting, pouring down
in crepuscular beams, the light which gave birth
to all. Standing sentinel, a stark elder,
limbs aloft in supplication declared
too late; a totem of all’s mortality.
life and death, in conflict
life and death, in congruity
life and death, in circular harmony.


Written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writeprompt – “Stark”.

When you write a poem, what do you call it? Being new to it, it seems as hard as naming a child, though I guess a poem won’t grow up to hate you for it. At least with a painting, especially if it’s meaning is self-evident, you can declare it “untitled”.

I’ve assumed the tree in the foreground to be an elder but, being denuded, it’s identity isn’t clear, though they are common enough in English country hedgerows and boundaries. I like the name “Elder”, though I don’t think it comes from the same meaning as old one, it gives this impression.

Did you know that if you take anything from the elder you should sing to Mother Elder first? It’s a magical tree and many things can be taken from it: blossoms and berries, of course, both to make cordials and wines; the stems of its branches and twigs have a pith core which is easily removed. This dry, sponge-like pith makes good tinder and the hollowed stems make whistles and flutes. Or you can use the tube to blow gently over the pith tinder to encourage a flame. Or, if the tube calibre is right, you could shoot elderberries at each other, I imagine. Whatever rocks your boat.

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