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.


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.

The Dream

They say a mind at peace never recalls its dreams and, for more nights than I could count now, I have slept “dreamless” nights. Last night was different.

I woke this morning with a feeling of physical paralysis which we are told is associated with the dreaming state, the NREM phase. I had to force myself to move else I might doze off again. I hate that, I’m not the lie-in sort. Besides, breakfast is always a good reason to get up.

The dream had me wandering within a large, open-plan office full to capacity with workers. Each desk was tiny, the size you would find in primary schools and everywhere there was clutter – under desks, under chairs and on shelves. A potted plant was knocked over by unseen hands and fell to the floor in front of me. The pot broke scattering its dirt. I couldn’t find my desk and my work.

I had a sense that I’d worked there before, that I was in the middle of doing something for them, and all those people weren’t there previously. They were new workers brought in and they showed no concern for what had gone on before; no concern and no respect either for the work previously done or for the people who had done it. I felt strongly that I should go, just walk out the door without a word.

You can interpret this dream any way you want, if you want. The message, if any message exists, will be obscure. It may have nothing to do with work at all. Or crowds of people. Dreams may not be literal mirrors of our lives. Who knows? A hypothesis suggests that dreaming is the unintentionally retained memories of the process of consolidating long-term memories from weaker, short-term ones. This the brain does whilst the body sleeps. It’s as if the brain does some things in secret, keeping it from other parts of the brain, manipulating memories; a sinister or benevolent duality.

I wash, shave and dress, then go downstairs to make coffee and eat breakfast. Tomorrow, or even later on today, my dream will be vague to recall. It is a short term memory. Left to get on with it, the mind will reject it as pointless, I think. I will return to dreamless night sleeps again.

And October can be nice also

Well I am pleased to have quit work in time to enjoy the Autumn. There was a danger of it rolling on into Winter and I didn’t want that.

Though the weather in England is unpredictable and often disappointing day by day, we do have the two beautiful, though short, seasons, Spring and Autumn, which I think are sadly absent in a lot of the world. Spring is Life and Autumn for Contemplation, the best seasons in my view.

Autumn is a beautiful word for it, quaint and comforting, though Fall is better descriptive of what happens with the deciduous leaves; deciduous itself a wonderfully sounding word, from decidere, to fall down.

In my younger days, there was a colleague called Stefan. He was a peaceful guy with a soft Polish accent. One lunchtime, we came across one another out walking around a large public park in Ealing, London. It was a fine day as we talked about it. I said how much I liked September, when the weather could be great. He said, and I remember it exactly, both the words and the sound of his voice,

“And October can be nice also.”

And he is right.

image by Annie Spratt via


I am indebted to an art tutor of mine from several years ago who asked, after considering one of my worser efforts,

What is it you are trying to achieve?

This is now my $64k question and it should be applied to almost everything we do. We ought to ask it of ourselves first thing in the morning, and what harm would it do to repeat it last thing at night?

As I am about to leave my job, I was thinking about the job interviews I’ve had and the sort of questions interviewers asked me and how, if at all, this related to the job. Of course, of all those jobs I didn’t get I can’t say other than nearly all of those involved tedious questioning; my unconscious reaction to tedium may have contributed to being rejected, who knows?

The interviews that went well and resulted in acceptance usually went something like,

Is this the kind of thing you do/feel confident doing/think you can do?

What’s your hourly rate?

How soon can you start?

I don’t mean to infer that good interviews are over in less time than it takes to drink your cup of tea (actually, I learnt to decline any hot beverage offered because these things can be over embarrassingly quickly – embarrassing if you’re still sipping your scalding hot cuppa, discussing how nice the weather is looking with three guys eager to get on with their work. Always ask for a glass of water instead).

Good interviews show the human side of everyone involved, not the cynical, distrusting side,

Yes, I confess, I don’t really have a job relevant degree, the letters are phoney, I lied about having thirty years practical experience, I’m no way “computer literate”, and I absolutely loathe “teamwork”. My CV is a utter work of fiction I made up the night before emailing it over. All I have to offer is big balls and a brass neck, so tell me why wouldn’t you want to hire someone with those?

Despite presenting an accurate CV, they still want to check it out with their impudent interrogation. They doubted my honesty. Would you want a job that began like this?

I was only ever asked once the usually hackneyed question,

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

That interview actually concluded in a bit of an argument so no guesses how that went. I knew someone who was asked that question and answered, without irony and in all seriousness,

Running this company.

That has to be the perfect answer, whether you’re serious about it or not. I regret not having had a second chance to say that.

I have just invented the hitherto impossible backwards in time machine

As I approach the final day of work, I’ve noticed a phenomenon where extra weeks seem to be slotting in between now and that day, seemingly from nowhere (or should that be nowhen?) For example, I was looking at the project planner the other day and hadn’t realised August has five weeks, not four, so I’m a week further out in my estimation. What a drag.

It dawned on me how this phenomenon is likely a universal one. I remember now when we were kids, the approach of a birthday, or Christmas morning, seemed to slow the nearer we got to it. It obviously has to do with the intensity of looking forward to a desired event.

So if I can gather in a room enough people approaching the end of a mundane career, we would experience time gradually slowing down. Then, adding more and more such people, we could stop time completely.

It doesn’t take a quantum leap in imagination to see that the addition of just one more similar person would effectively reverse time’s arrow. Those fortunate enough to be in the room closest to the window will see the seasons slowly change from Summer to Spring, and soon enough little children will be wrapping their presents up to give to Santa, turkeys will be resurrected from ovens the world over, and leaves will begin attaching themselves to trees.

So let us forget the impracticality of going to Mars. Let us save our planet by going backwards. If you’re up for it and have an itch for a future date, get in touch. Our time room awaits us.

Refreshments will be provided.

Exactly what is time? – The Arrow of Time

Psychology Today – The way we experience time is no illusion

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.

Amuse gueule

Work seems to have diverted my attentions. Here’s a few bits to keep the blog pulse ticking. I was going to title this post, Amuse Bouche, but I found the French prefer Amuse Gueule, so I went for that. Never say you don’t learn something new everyday.

Work, eh? When I first entered the workforce, I saw work as an old man’s thing*. As a consequence of this, me and most of the staff of a similarly young age used to play about something rotten, having a laugh, pranking, and generally not taking things seriously.

Now that I’m fast approaching the time to chuck it all in, I seriously see work as being a young person’s game. They all seem to possess the ambition and the level of enthusiasm I don’t.

The odd thing is, this suggests somewhere in my working life there must have been a time when work must have been right for me and me for work, but for the life of me I can’t see when that was.

(* apologies for the apparent sexism but it was literally all men when I began and remained so for about twenty years.)

After writing about Ikigai previously, I see there’s another Japanese idea to consider: Tsundoku. It specifically relates to buying book’s you’ll probably never get around to reading, but it could apply to other things you may buy and neglect to use, like records, shoes, or anything.

Apparently, even in Japan it isn’t that old and is a pun on the words Tsunde Oku meaning “to pile up”.

Guilty, I confess. Off the top of my head I know of a box set of Otis Redding albums and one of Emmylou Harris which I must’ve picked up a decade ago. I think it’s still wrapped in its security cling film.

Books? Well, I blame the “3 for 2” culture. I could never find that third book worth reading amongst the offers but, it was “free” wasn’t it? Now I buy mostly ebooks for convenience, it’s things like Bookbub which break down my weak resistance. I’ve amassed a fair library of 99p books waiting to be opened. Tsundoku!

An interesting piece I read just now about Aristotle’s take on friendships. He saw there were three types of friendships, and the article translates these as friendships of Utility, Pleasure and Good.

Utility friendships are the kind you might make at work. These are accidental and don’t generally last beyond work. Sure, when a guy leaves, we exchange emails and say we’ll keep in touch, we’ll even write that sentiment on the leaving card, but, two, five or ten years down the line, and we’re strangers again.

Pleasure friendships are the kind we make at school, again by chance. We have a laugh with these guys who are fun. But like the Utility ones, eventually it comes to an end and we lose touch.

Aristotle favoured the last kind, the Good, founded on shared virtues. He saw these as lasting friendships.

I was thinking of friendships the other day; all the people I kicked around with who I no longer know. Too many, to be sure. Friendship is a bit like tending a garden, or having a second language: it needs continuous attention or else in time all is lost.

Tsundoku – a Pile of Books

Aristotle on Friendships

The Venn of Ikigai (posted previously)

On something Bertrand Russell wrote

This the other day from Brain Pickings on something Bertrand Russell wrote,

“Make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river — small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls.

Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.”

Exactly! This is why I can’t go to work anymore: my interests are now too wide and my specialism is just too personal. Well anyway, I’m going to make this my excuse, if ever I need one.

It’s interesting, a river as a metaphor for existence or life. Not the first time, I know, and not the last. I rather like the idea of a meander. Though with respect to work, we talk about “Career”. Then I like how Career has two meanings: a) that job thing, but also b) progressing in an uncontrolled way.

Yep, that’s been me.

Portrait by Larry Burrows

How To Grow Old by Bertrand Russell (Brain Pickings)

Not a blogging holiday

The downside of working full time, starting to learn another language and getting the house to look its best prior to putting it on the market, is I have little quality time for blogging. It has, unfortunately, become priority #4.

I feel I have to have quality time, and lots of it, to do this any justice. I’m not writerly enough to just knock them out, as my drafts folder will testify to: full to bursting with half-finished and barely formed and inept second-thoughts. Though I’ve never timed myself, I reckon each post averages about an hour’s work.

This reminds me of an anecdotal story told by the singer-songwriter, Leonard Cohen, when he met up with Bob Dylan. I can’t remember which of their songs they were discussing but as it is Cohen and Dylan, it hardly matters which. I think it might have been Hallelujah and I and I, respectively. Each admired the other’s song and Dylan asked Cohen how long he’d spent writing it. Cohen said “Two years” (though witness accounts say it was likely closer to five!) And what about I and I ? Dylan claimed it was done in fifteen minutes.

I don’t know who’s the better writer of the two and how much it really matters in the end, to the audience. Cohen said of himself he was a slow writer.

And he also said, at another time,

“The fact that my songs take a long time to write is no guarantee of their excellence.”

(53 minutes)

Portrait by Platon Antoniou.