wisdom

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”

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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,

Picaresque

“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

(Jonathan Swift from “Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting”)

Do you ever go on a Google Safari?

This may look like a conjoining of two popular search engine names but really my meaning is the popular and ubiquitous meaning of the first word and the literal meaning of the second.

So, it may start by recalling a phrase or quotation or, in this instance, a title of a book, and I’m curious as to its origin or context or literal meaning. The book is the only work published by the author, John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces.

This was a book I’d judged by the title back in – whoa! the 1990s, I reckon, when Penguin issued a series of modern classic novels at an introductory bargain price. I wasn’t disappointed.

The phrase used for the title came to mind this morning after reading the news, but in particular the readers’ comments which are invited below many of the news items. I will admit that I have commented on items myself though I hope I haven’t been typical of these commenters. It’s a healthy sign of freedom and democracy that we are allowed to express ourselves publicly even if we wrongly equate our opinion with that of the author’s. A moment’s thought would tell any reasonable person how wrong this is likely to be so they might discard their certainty before going in search of the truth. Yet vanity and pride overwhelm, so generally people will choose ignorance over correcting themselves.

So, discovering the title comes from Jonathan Swift rather than The Holy Bible or Shakespeare, and being happy with that, I find a term I wasn’t familiar with but ought to be: Picaresque.

Essentially, Picaresque is a literary genre which deals with the lovable rogue, in particular someone from the lower orders in society, though in a broader sense anyone swimming against the popular tide. I love this genre and find such persons, whether fictitious or real, interesting.

In human nature, I feel there must be a “gene” which compels us to move with the herd. You can see its possible “evolutionary advantage”, can’t you? The downside is, amongst other things, people are informed by a narrow section of news outlets – somewhat bias driven for cynically commercial reasons, we get hemmed in by “party politics” – mostly self-serving and unrepresentative of ordinary citizen’s needs or views, and a largely out-of-date and devalued education.


The author, John Kennedy Toole’s life story is a sad one. Having written A Confederacy of Dunces – a brilliant and funny debut novel, I thought – he failed to get a publisher interested in it. He suffered depression and took his own life at the age of 31.

It was his mother, an influential figure throughout his life though not always a welcome one, who championed the novel in her son’s memory and eventually had it published. Later, Toole was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It reads like a good story in its own right and although there is a play, I don’t know if anyone’s made or thought of making a film of it.

Though the Safari could’ve gone on, I chose to end it there.

If Our Books Disappear

As a Kindle shopper, I hadn’t been aware of the fate of Microsoft’s ebook store. Apparently, the company have decided to pull the plug on it due to its lack of profitability. If and when this happens, any books purchased through this shop will disappear. It’ll be like a virtual book burning session and there’s nothing those customers can do.

It’s worth some consideration, if you’re an ebook buyer, or whether you buy any virtual product, that what you are actually buying is not an object to own, in perpetuity, but a licence or permit to use that thing, maybe for an unspecified period. As long as you know this, I can’t see much wrong with it; you pay your money and you take your choice.

In the UK, at least, ownership of anything and everything is a relatively new social concept. I remember as a small boy, almost everyone rented their TV and music systems, a lot of household stuff was on hire-purchase (colloquially referred to as the never never because you paid but never owned it). My parents were the first in our extended family to own their home – through a 25 year mortgage deal, mind – and everyone thought they were odd, or even mad. Renting and hiring was the norm.

Getting back to books – and thinking about music, too – there is this idea of owning a collection, something which I had mindlessly fallen into as well. I think the craziness of it first surfaced when a colleague explained how he had fallen out with his partner after commandeering the second bedroom of their small, two-bed apartment and had installed wall to wall, floor to ceiling shelving to house his record collection. He had amassed many thousands, apparently. I asked if he actually listened to them all regularly and he said, of course! I doubted that: knowing my own habits and then doing the maths, there hardly seemed enough hours left in a lifetime to indulge in that level of listening, and that supposes that we won’t be seduced by any later offerings by artists and the industry.

It’s exactly so with books but worse. Reading a book is a lot more demanding, intensive and time consuming than listening to a record. While a favourite album might be on repeat playlist for a year, how many books do we return to that often? Of all the books I have reread, probably fewer than six had retained the impression of the first read. Quite a number had felt diminished, knowing the plot, the characters and the ideas within.

Not wishing to decorate my home with expansive shelves of records and books – I much prefer paintings and other images; and space! Let’s hear it for a clutter free existence – we found most of our unread books and unheard music had been confined to packing boxes under the beds or in closets, out of sight, out of mind. We took the step to cull most of it, offering them to charity shops and other collectors, keeping back a small number which we considered having special qualities, but even these rarely get looked at or listened to.

With music, it’s more convenient to pick something from an online platform, I never feel I have to own it to enjoy it. With books, I often find good literature on offer for less than a couple of quid each. There seems to be no end to these offers and I am in danger of collecting a virtual library of more books than I have time left to read. I’m not expecting it to disappear before I do but if it does, I think I’ve had my money’s worth. Owning stuff is not so important to me now, as long as I have access to books, music and art some other way, that’s fine. I understand the deal.


When this ebook store closes, your books disappear too (BBC News)

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.

Rude Talk Now

Sapio-sexual (n). a person who is sexually aroused by, or sexually attracted to, intelligence.

Humanity is so kinky on the fringes, I could easily see living amongst us a subset of folk who get off on pure intelligence. They probably consult each other on The Times Crossword as foreplay. I’m trying myself to be conscious of whether I ever find intelligence arousing, in a sexual context, and I’m afraid I’m not getting the glow.

Sapiosexual is a new word (I always look these words up, even if I’m sure I know the meaning already. Sometimes it surprises me that I don’t, but it’s an education). I also find, from the same search, the word, Pragmasexual, and I feel that may be more my line.

To be honest, when it comes to sexual arousal, I find that sexual potential is all it requires. It’s like when you’re hungry, or just peckish, you’re probably not thinking about Raymond Blanc, Gordon Ramsey, and three michelin star restaurants inside five star hotels; you’re really thinking about Mum’s shepherds pie or Nan’s beef rendang. Of course, the analogy ends there for legal and ethical reasons, but yeah, nothing arouses sexuality more than the thought of sex itself. And for that you don’t need too much intelligence.


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #75 – “Sapio-sexual”

Think on: Does any cheese complement a tomato?

The UK’s popular, and probably populist, newspaper, The Sun, states, following a poll of its readers, that a fraction above 62% of them would vote Leave if there was a second referendum on Brexit. Quelle surprise, as they may say in Brussels.

Polls are silly and I don’t like them, so much so that I might respond to any in a mischievous and inconsistent way just to subvert them. Am I alone in this? Let’s take a poll….

Seriously, I wondered if any of our other esteemed papers had instigated their own agenda driven readers’ polls. I didn’t find any but stumbled across a YouGov analysis of different paperstypical reader. It was all pretty banal until I read,

“A Daily Mail reader enjoys eating cheese and tomato sandwiches…”

Now I’m not saying reverse logic can apply and that knowing your character traits can point you towards the appropriate newspaper but, really, is there any way I can pick up the Daily Mail knowing this?

In my world, sliced tomatoes have no business between two slices of bread anymore than say a sliced lemon does (by all means try one and let me know). But then with cheese?!

I know, I know, the pairing of Cheese and tomato, have history – but how on Earth did that happen?

As usual, answers on a postcard, please, as we used to say….


YouGov Poll on UK newspaper readerships (via The Guardian) – old news

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

Three Things

Little Wheelie Carry-On Suitcases

I think everyone who flies these days makes do with a hand luggage sized suitcase. I mean, who wants to waste an hour watching other people’s luggage go around a carousel? Not me. Not you either by the look of the way things have gone.

One thing about it that baffles me a bit is why the wheels? I see many fit and strapping blokes pulling an incy-wincy case behind them when it could easily be carried. The way I see it is, if it didn’t have the retractable handle to pull it with, it’d have more capacity inside for clothes and toiletries.

For a week, or even two weeks, away, there’s an art to packing these little blighters and though I may flatter myself at my proficiency, the guy at Gentleman’s Gazette, over on Youtube, is the absolute master by comparison. Since discovering the sartorial Sven Raphael Schneider some months back, and blogging on his excellent style tips, his videos often pop up as Youtube suggestions. I’m fascinated and though I have little fashion consciousness myself, it amazes me how often I agree with him.

Anyway, Mr. Schneider advises that it is preferable to roll up some items, as opposed to folding them which I would do without thinking, so as to prevent creases. Well I’m going to be rolling my packing as well in future, just to see. Brilliant!


Iron Rain

This is not going to be about some European Heavy Metal band; know me, I wouldn’t do that to you.

I am still fascinated by astronomers who have discovered a planet which they believe to be the hottest known planet. It is that close to its parent sun that temperatures on its surface are capable of vaporising the iron and titanium present.

It has been imagined that other exoplanets exist orbiting close to their star that their weather systems might comprise clouds of aluminium, iron and other metals, and these systems could suggests it literally rains down molten iron rods. I just wonder what they make their umbrellas out of.

This sort of science cracks me up. There’s all these Sci-fi books and movies being made – The Martian, Mars Mission, Fly Me To Jupiter and back, whatever – and it’s all bollocks. It’s essentially Science Fantasy rather than Science Fiction; it belongs with stories about ghosts, hobbits and zombies. Sci-Fa, not Sci-fi. The truth is far more amazing yet the fools seem oblivious to it.


Drink Like An Italian

Yes, apparently, according to statistics and an analysis of my alcohol intake last week, I drink like an average Italian. It makes me want to shout and gesticulate whilst wearing a playfully severe expression at the BBC TV article which suggests it.

Actually, I think it’s the Italians whose lifestyles we are told to emulate – good food, long life, and they certainly wear the best clothes (I’m sure Mr. Schneider would agree).

It’s a bit disappointing to read we have a serious drinking problem in the UK despite having the lowest recommended limits for consumption of alcohol in the known universe. The presenter, Adrian Chiles, whose own consumption is the basis for the BBC’s new show about “moderate drinking”, admits to drinking every day though believes he’s not an alcoholic. If he drinks every day, how can he know he isn’t addicted?

Ah, there’s too much of this government guideline business, I don’t think I’ll be tuning in to see Mr. Chiles and his tormented liver do a U-turn; I’m happy to carry on being an Italian.

Arrivaderci.


How To Pack A Carry-On Suitcase (Youtube)

KELT-9b – The first exoplanet discovered with an iron atmosphere

Booze Calculator By Nationality (BBC News)

A Dabbler’s Education

I had been thinking about those little GIF cartoons I attempted some years ago, and then how and why I came to blog, and it’s probably right that I self-identify as a bit of a dabbler. If you can’t be a Master at any one thing then at least try to be a Jack of all things. This I believe.

If I see something I like, I’m interested to find out how it works and what better way than to have a go at it yourself? That way you get an understanding and a better appreciation of the thing, and, by extension, the whole world. Or at least as much of the world as you can cram into a single lifetime.

This education began with my Mum and Dad. They were, and still are, the most self-reliant people I know. For them, I think it was partly out of necessity, not having a lot of money, but they are practical people too, in spirit.

So throughout my adult life, it’s astonished me how many times I’ve heard men say, with undisguised pride, how they “got in a man” to fix something that any fully functioning and reasonably intelligent person could do for themselves in no time. Seriously, I have known men who don’t even possess a screwdriver. It’s just bizarre if you consider how man is identified as a user of tools, a thing that sets us apart from most other animals, and yet there are examples here amongst us without a basic tool, the screwdriver – in a world of screws! And don’t get me started on men who (again, proudly claiming) don’t know their way around a kitchen…!

But back to education. It’s a source of dismay to me how it is in our co-called civilisation that educational support seems to shudder to a halt in adulthood and thereafter is only a real option for the wealthy and privileged. Not that it appears many of them take it up beyond the necessity in getting the right qualification to begin a career – normally a very straight and narrow path to the end.

Ignorance abounds, and it seems as if we’re proud to be dumb. Ironically, we are also very opinionated, and adamantly so. Though, to me, this is likely a symptom of the malaise. I believe it’s true that the more you learn, and the broader your learning is, paradoxically the more there is remaining to be understood.

This dabbler’s education is a work in progress.