life

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

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Venus is Hell

I dropped in on the BBC iPlayer app the other day. It’s been a while as I’ve not been enthusiastic about BBC TV for a long time; it’s played too safe and formulaic.

However, Professor Brian Cox’s latest presenting vehicle, The Planets, caught my attention. The CGI graphics in the previews reminded me of the artist’s impressions of the imagined landscapes of real planets, which featured in the weekly encyclopaedia I was given as a kid. They might have been illustrated by Angus McBride who did the mythical beasts I blogged about before, but I don’t actually know. The landscapes were quite fanciful and earth-like, with graceful though strangely coloured clouds, and often featured multiple moons or planetary rings in the sky.

The Planet‘s planets are a whole different ball game. Based on real information sent back by probes, it shows a stark and horrifically hostile environment on each of our terrestrial neighbours. Venus, for example, is described as “Hell” compared to Earth’s heaven, while Mars, hoped to be the most plausible for human colonisation, appears like a sad, dead wasteland.

I’ve long held the impression that life is a fluke, an extreme, long odds, outside chance and that it ought not to have happened at all. It required a very special set of conditions: a place in the solar system goldilocks zone; the right sized planet; the right amount of essential elements, in the right proportions; water, existing in three states; a magnetic field; and probably a whole host of things I haven’t considered. The fact that life has existed here for billions of years, long enough to enable selective evolution to develop complicated lifeforms, and somehow avoiding a natural catastrophic annihilation may be regarded as a miracle. Though I enjoy science fiction, I’ve often found the facts far more impressive.


On science fiction, I’ve had this idea about the perfect afterlife when a soul is free to wander wherever in pleases. Mine would love to fly to other planets just to see how they matched up with those artist’s impressions.

But then the other day I had a crisis of doubt. How do souls, or ghosts, work? Without a body, they have no sensory perceptions and won’t see, hear or feel anything externally. They are all imagination, aren’t they? Oh well, back to the drawing board…


image: imagined, the brief life of a Venera probe on the surface of Venus, a reality Hell (from The Planets, BBC)

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

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”

Perspective

I don’t believe anyone isn’t familiar with the scene in the Irish comedy series, Father Ted. It’s in the episode where the three priests are holidaying in a caravan in a field during inclement weather, so they are stuck indoors. In the brilliant scene, Father Ted is sat across the table from the young dimwit, Father Dougal, and on the table is a toy set of plastic farmyard animals.

The scene opens with Ted picking up two toy cows and he says to Dougal,

Okay, one last time. These…,” showing Dougal the cows, “are small,”

then gesturing to the window, he continues, “but the ones out there…are far away.” Then deliberately more slowly, he hammers it home,

Small. Far away.”

And Dougal’s face says he simply doesn’t get it. And for a long time neither did artists, this illusion of perspective. Even today, artists make mistakes in perspective.


Technical drawing was probably my favourite class in school because a lot of the tricks involved in drawing geometry absolutely fascinated me, and this included the way to do a perspective representation using vanishing points, or VPs, and projection lines. Of course, revealing the working out – these points and lines – isn’t often desirable but I think it looks beautiful, probably because it shows an understanding.

An important benefit of practicing drawing and fine art, and even photography providing it’s not done carelessly and superficially, is the way it encourages the practitioner to see things accurately, and to notice things in relationship with other things.

And it doesn’t stop there. Once you’ve got this germ inside your mind, I think it expands into other aspects of life: abstract thought, philosophy, innovation and generally understanding of most things. Everyone ought to try a little perspective representation, once in a while.


inspired by and written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #83 – “Perspective”.

image: from The Book of Perspective by Jan Vredeman de Vries, (1604)

Here’s that scene from Father Ted,

Beyond #writephoto

Everything alive here, now and before, is the favour of the sun; its light and warmth. In the cold of late winter, before the spring, before the earth has warmed and, in its turn, warmed the air which remains chill to our senses, our sun can give its warmth directly: the wonderful experience of feeling its heat on your body as you walk outdoors, or through a sunlit window as you sit.

To think of all the sentient creatures of the world which have sensed this too. From the time of insects energising their gossamer wings for flight, and upon the scales of giant lizards, the dinosaurs, and the feathers and down of early birds, then the mammals and us.

It is believed, with the irreversible stresses we have placed on the Earth, that the next life forms will not be organic but cybernetic, in order to survive the heat and extremes of the environment. What will a cognitive machine make of the sun’s radiant energy, if it analyses it through an electronic sensor chip, with artificial intelligence; or even senses it at all? What meaning will such an experience have for the soulless beyond?


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto challenge – “Beyond”.

The Road Gang

We are settling into village life more and more and I received a nice email thanking me for my participation in the village tidy up. There were about a dozen of us meeting up last Saturday morning. We each had a pair of gloves, a hi-vis tabard, a plastic sack and one of those extended picker devices operated by a trigger so we didn’t have to keep bending down. Then we scattered to different points of the compass to pick litter.

The last time I went on litter patrol was at school. Then, it was seen as a punishment for some trivial felony, like refusing to wear a school cap or picking one’s nose in religious education. Although there was the ecological and aesthetic benefit to school, the purpose behind it was more humiliation.

But on this occasion it felt good and worthy. It helped that the morning’s weather was mild and sunny, and my stretch of road offered high views across the fields where there were sheep and lambs and cattle.

It was a big sack and I was worried I’d not fill it and look like a worthless newbie on my debut. So I busied myself with every speck of paper and dog end I could spot while my companions strode forth and were soon almost out of sight. I needn’t have worried; a little past the village welcome sign, I found all sorts of discarded detritus. Mostly, it was the expected soda pop cans, coffee cups and drink cartons, occasionally a takeaway container and a burger meal bag. I did find the broken remains of a car accident which filled up the sack to breaking point – I knew then I wasn’t to fail.

The oddest things I picked up in the space of an hour were, a large medicine bottle with a prescription label, an empty economy bottle for hair conditioner, a plastic box for small tools – the places for pliers, screwdrivers, wrenches etc. were clearly indented – a race competitor’s number label, 106 – I hope she or he wasn’t disqualified for losing this – and a pair of cut down denim jeans.

I got the hand of the extended litter picker eventually but I will say a thank you to all those considerate individuals who crush their cans before throwing them out the car window. Crushed cans are a lot easier to pick up with an extended litter picker than uncrushed ones – these tend to slip away as soon as they’re clamped. So, thank you crushers! A little thoughtfulness in a world of mindlessness makes life a little better.

Yeah, right.

Little and Often: a life principle

I believe that most people are contradictions. Take me and work: I am a lazy sod, just won’t touch work; until I get going, then I’m a workaholic; I don’t know when to quit. Possibly the built in laziness is a defence against my inclination to work for too long, or maybe I just forget how satisfying a day’s work can be.

Unfortunately, I don’t seem to be as fit as I used to be. For stamina, I mean. My strength seems to be okay. I’ve managed to dig out and lift a couple of rhubarb plants, and the girth of mud attached which was not much smaller than I could hug, and put them one at a time into the barrow, and manage to steady the barrow one time as it was in danger of toppling over. But now the plants have been relocated, mulched and watered, I am proverbially “cream crackered*”, and it’s only lunchtime. I’ve had a couple of bits of toast and marmite, and sat down with a cup of tea, and now I feel lazy again.

I can’t remember who it was that told me their life principle, “little and often”, but I need to adopt that myself.


Quite right, it’s the wrong time to be digging up rhubarb but those plants were where I want to put my shed, so they had to move.

* cream crackered – cockney rhyming slang for extremely tired.

My playlist is a Memento Mori

Peter Tork, the unusual one from The Monkees, has died. Unusual in that he seemed the least like an actor and the most like a proper musician. He was actually an accomplished folk artist before auditioning for the part, and played bass guitar and keyboards. I just about remember The Monkees; it was youthful, subversive and wacky.

“Hope I die before I get old”, sang The Who‘s Roger Daltrey, around the same time. The words are Pete Townsend’s. Both are still with us. Yet they, and those like them, weren’t meant to die or grow old. It’s all about youth and youthfulness, permanently fresh and stretching out into infinite.

I don’t have The Monkees on my 750 song playlist in the car. I’d happily include The Who but I haven’t got around to it. It has become increasingly obvious that a lot of the artists on my playlist are no longer here. This is partly my fault because my tastes go far back to a time before I was born. Yet so many have fallen off the perch in recent years, not by misadventure but through boring old age.

“He’s dead, oh, she’s dead, is she gone now?, I imagine he’s no longer with us, I wonder if she’s still around…”

Does it matter, listening to dead musicians? The music still sounds good. And I think any reminder of mortality is an awareness of life. Rock on! While you’ve still got breath – live!


image: The Monkees (Peter Tork, far left)

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?