Sunday, July 31, 2005

A sense of balance 

It’s late February 2002. I’m making my way up the Allt a Mhuilinn towards Ben Nevis in the company of twenty or so others on the final day of a Scottish winter mountaineering training course.

The walk up the valley to the foot of the mountain proper is long and not too steep, so we’re spread out along the track in groups or two or three, passing the time chatting. The path is almost wide enough to walk two and sometimes three abreast – almost but not quite, so feet occasionally find themselves hopping over boulders or tussocks of grass at the path’s edge. That wouldn’t necessarily matter, but the wind is blowing sleet across the valley so hoods are drawn tightly round faces and vision is restricted to a tunnel. The path ahead is clear enough, but what lies to left and right, or at my feet, is out of sight.

One moment I’m walking along at the edge of the path chatting to one of the instructors; the next, a blurred image, predominantly white with scatterings of green and occasional grey-brown flashes across my field of vision; arms flail wildly to assist feet, working under the influence of a blind instinct of their own, to find whatever purchase they can, sufficiently near to a spot that is directly under my centre of gravity to keep body approximately upright. But only approximately – centre of gravity is not quite where is usually is, owing to the weight of a rucksack packed with winter mountaineering gear; the white and green and grey-brown patchwork swirls and twists and sweeps again in a new direction, and feet continue their involuntary dance across a floor that wildly tips and dips with every step. Brain is taken initially by surprise, but although much of its processing power is channeled into the immediate matter of maintaining balance, another more detached part gets to work processing the incoming information. Out of the erratic green and grey and white kaleidoscope it notices an occasional element that it recognizes – here’s a grey rock, there’s green grass, there, further ahead is… white, but there’s nothing in between - and so it begins to piece together a coherent explanation, rapidly followed by an evaluation and an action plan. I tripped, stumbled off the path and am now careering down quite a steep slope which steepens further before falling over a low drop to reach the stream. Now would be a good time to regain control and stop.

That out-of-balance feeling, not quite sure what it is that’s flashing past, never able to be still long enough to make sense of the surroundings, ever struggling to maintain sufficient balance and always on the point of falling over, is pretty much what the entry point to this month of July felt like. Somewhere around the beginning of the month, at around this blog’s second anniversary, I changed its name from “older and growing” to “older, but no wiser”- at that time, the old name felt such a pretentious lie that I couldn’t bear to see it there staring back at me from the top of the page, mocking me, daring me. Who did this guy think he was?

Today though I’d almost feel comfortable reinstating the old title, if not as a statement of fact, then at least as a declaration of intent. It’s been quite an eventful month, one way and another, and rather to my surprise I find I’m leaving the month in a frame of mind quite different to that in which I entered it. That out-of-balance feeling hasn’t gone away altogether, but its power seems markedly diminished.

Human beings being what they are, it’s tempting to look for explanations, to identify some significant causal links – to be able to say “Ah, so that’s why…”. Someone once said we’re ‘why and because machines’: the inquisitiveness that may have kick-started our intellectual evolution and has certainly sustained it, has us forever asking why, and that question creates a vacuum which we also seem driven to fill. Finding answers feels good; it fosters the illusion that we understand, that we’re in control, and if we’re not careful we mistake plausibility for veracity, just to avoid the discomfort of that vacuum and to fulfill our need to believe that we are masters of our own destiny.

So it was that I nearly fell into the trap of trying figure out what has changed over the past 31 days, to be able to say – “I feel x because of y”. The rough draft of this post had a long list of contenders, both for causes and for effects. But what use is that? It’s all conjecture, I couldn’t actually do anything with the knowledge, and it’d be wrong anyway because people and the world are much more complicated, interconnected , non-linear and downright unpredictable then we give them credit for.

Anyhow, all that analysis stuff is backward looking and I’d rather be moving forwards. I’d just better watch where I put my feet – balance may be regained, but there are still boulders out there.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

It’s official! 

I am own an old crock, since my venerable automobile turned 100 today – one hundred thousand miles that is, since 1995. I guess that puts it on a par with the secondhand lawnmower I once saw advertised in the small ads in the local paper, described as “aged, but not infirm”.

Saddo that I am, I’d intended to record on digital film the moment when the mileometer advanced from 99,999 to 100,000, but having counted down the miles for the last few weeks, that moment came and went unnoticed amidst the excitement (ha!) of Saturday shopping. So I never did get to see those six digits all rolling over together. It’ll be a long time ‘til they do that again – I have hopes though that the day may come.

Better give the old thing a celebratory wash tomorrow. If I can remember how.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Aeronautical engineering 

Looking at some of the photos here lately, you’d be forgiven for thinking I have an entomological streak. The reality is much more prosaic; insects are simply the nearest thing to wildlife outside my back door. Wildlife that’ll stop in front of the camera long enough to be photographed, that is - about a dozen bird species are regular visitors, but I don’t have the benefits of Doug Thompson’s long lens. Or his hirsute neighbours.

It wouldn’t take much to generate an interest though. As an engineer, I can’t help but marvel at the structures that create and transmit the forces that vibrate the wings without the whole thing falling apart. Click for the enlarged version, look at the joint between wing and body and imagine what goes on there when those wings hum – astonishing! I imagine the muscles are contained within and attatched to that shell-like structure behind the eyes - engine, transmission and final drive all in one unit. Heard that before? However ingenious man is, nature seems to have got there first.

Pity I didn’t get the depth-of-field quite right though... Ah well, next time...

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Hidden jewels 

It was one of those vaguely planned, make-up-the-details-as-you-go sort of days. The kind of lazy summer day on which Kenneth Grahame might have sent Mole and Ratty pottering up a quiet creek with a picnic hamper, intent on nothing more than communing absent-mindedly with the spirits of summer; a day with broad intent, but no minute-by-minute itinerary, not even so much as a list of things to do and see. After all, when you’re setting out on a circular tour round a lake on mountain bikes, all the planning you need to do seems to be summed up in that simple description; anything more seems superfluous. Just keep turning left, but not so sharply that you end up in the water. It’s like that old return ticket joke – Where are you going? Back here, of course. It wouldn’t be a lazy day exactly, not quite as relaxed as Ratty and Mole’s – after all, we’d be cycling twenty five miles or so - but when spread out over the space of a day, that relaxed mileage gives plenty of time to stop and take in the view, laze in the sun, eat an ice-cream, and explore all the interesting little corners we might come across.

Being camped on the shore of Ullswater, it seemed the obvious thing to do. The first part of the route, from the south end of the lake to half way up the eastern side, is entirely off-road, on rough tracks that have enough variety to offer a gentle sort of excitement without forcing the kind of in-your-face challenge that might upset the laid-back feel to the day. Sometimes open, sometimes wooded, sometimes sandy, sometimes rocky, the track twists and turns, rising to a 600 foot high rocky look-out point giving stunning views over the lake, falling again – rapidly - to the lake’s shore (clearly we chose the right direction in which to undertake our circumnavigation) then setting off on a relatively straight section, parallel to the shore but a little way above it.

Straight it may have been; monotonous it was not. At every turn of the pedals, tempting pockets of interest lay in wait to lure lovers of nature’s artistry away from the path. Way-points such as a tiny sheltered cove, shielded by trees on three sides and ringed by springy close-cropped turf which formed a natural seating shelf at the beach’s edge. The beach itself was a carpet of silver-grey shingle, decorated with sumptuously mossy boulders and artifacts of sun-bleached driftwood, and with the charred remains of a small fire marking the spot where others too had appreciated the charm of this spot.

Imagine the scene those fire-setters inhabited: a fragrant ribbon of smoke curls up from their smouldering fire, twists just out of reach of the overhanging branches’ leafy fingertips and gently disperses in the still evening air. Across the lake to the west the sun is low in the sky but has not yet dropped below the hills that rise up from the opposite shore, and so the cove becomes a floodlit stage with tree trunks for the wings, leafy canopy for proscenium arch, and players… but here the metaphor breaks down, for surely the show is all around; both here in the cove and out over the lake, and those on the beach are both players and audience. So the evening’s entertainment unfolds, gloriously three-dimensional and participatory. Eventually though darkness falls and the show ends; they feed the fire until crackling flames shoot sparks up into branches above, then draw closer to each other…

Do I over-dramatise the scene? Time then to reign in imagination, shoulder daysacks and return to bikes and track.

It was only a quarter of the total distance, but that first section took until lunch time. We hardly saw a soul the whole while; not until we came close to the jetty where the lake steamers have a drop-off point did we encounter more than the occasional walker on the path, but there, contained within a tourist-strolling-distance semi-circle centred on the jetty, the population multiplied tremendously.

We hurried through the throng and made our way to the tarmac road that joins the shore at this point; from here on it would be tarmac all the way. Rounding the top of the lake takes you into tourist territory - definitely no place for Mole and Ratty, but good for ice-creams. Then the road back south again turns slightly inland for a while, then rejoins the lake, running almost-but-not-quite along the shore. A close look at the map reveals a narrow strip of green between road and lake – only a couple of millimeters on the map, 50 meters on the ground; not a lot you might think, but walled and wooded it forms as effective a barrier – at least to respecters of private property notices – as if it were 500 or 5,000 metres wide. So near, but yet so far… As we sped along, we kept an eye open for possible ways through, catching tantalizing glimpses of water through the trees. Then, just as the road ahead turned inland again, we spied a possibility, a gap in the wall with clear water just visible beyond.

The shore was reached by a scramble down a steep earthy bank, following a natural ladder of gnarled tree roots whose fingers reached deep into the soil; judging by their polish, plenty of others knew the secret of this secluded spot, although today we had it to ourselves. Mole and Ratty would have been thoroughly at home here – a burrow amongst the roots in the earth bank, a mooring hidden in the reeds and a boat out on the lake – what more could they ask? And for the young-at-heart, a gently shelving shore shallow enough to allow paddling, should you be so inclined.

Just like the morning’s cove, the miniature scale of the place gave it an instantly friendly, intimate feel – more than two or three people here and it would be crowded. It was a delightful spot and the afternoon perfectly fulfilled the earlier promise of the day. We stayed there for a long time, doing nothing in particular except allowing the spirits of Kenneth Grahame’s timeless characters a few moments reincarnation as we pottered amongst the reeds and branches at the water’s edge. Eventually though visions of supper grew stronger and their lure harder to resist, their potency all the greater for being undiluted by the after effects of a generous lunch time picnic hamper. Reluctantly we left that reminder of an altogether more magical world to return to its afternoon slumbers, and clambered back up to the road - thankfully though, one not frequented by manic toads in motor cars.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Six o’clock in the morning. A student sits in his room at university, wearily trying to complete the essay he abandoned late the previous night, having fallen asleep over his desk. Forever sidetracked, finding ever-increasing difficulty in maintaining focus, having lost the spark of interest in the subject he once found so fascinating; now it’s become a drudgery from which he desperately wants to escape.

Fast forward 30 years...
The surroundings have changed; the room is now an office, paper is superseded by computer, essays are replaced by technical papers, yet what I experience now in my work – and only in my work, not in any other arena - is that same inability to focus, a shutter that comes down in my mind creating paralysis of thought and deed.

That shutter is like a science fiction force-field, an invisible, impenetrable barrier between mind and work, and it’s a common feature of both scenarios, then and now. At last, I think I see its source and its purpose – it’s my heart’s way of telling me that this is emphatically not how it wants to be engaged; this is not its purpose, not its plan. It doesn’t belong here, and if head wont listen to it, continuing to ride roughshod over its desires, then this mental barrier is the only way heart has of communicating, throwing up road-blocks that I cannot ignore.

It may not be coincidence that there is also a common factor to those things that distracted me then and now; always, there has been a creative element. In university days of course it was too easy to swap minute by minute between study and creation. I remember hours spent constructing a sophisticated wire framework to hold bread for toasting in front of the gas fire; a tiny matchbox jack-in-the-box made as a Valentine’s Day gift for my girlfriend ( now my wife); sketches – none very good, but all the result of that drive to create. It’s harder now in the office – not much call for wire toasters or jack-in-the-boxes, but once in a while there are some intranet pages to design or some systems diagrams to produce. And in the intervening years, every single work achievement of any significance (not that there are many of those) has been an act of creation in some form, something that bears the stamp of my unique self.

I only half understood my heart’s message 30 years ago, and so was only half committed to acting upon it. So if indeed I’m now finally waking up to it, will I also now act?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Just Enough 

Just Enough

Soil for legs
Axe for hands
Flower for eyes
Bird for ears
Mushrooms for nose
Smile for mouth
Songs for lungs
Sweat for skin
Wind for mind

~ Nanao Sakaki ~

This comes from today’s posting at Panhala

These words seem so simple and brief, yet the more times I read them, the larger and clearer and more joyful their meaning becomes. The words are, indeed, just enough.

Monday, July 25, 2005


My wife pulled up, returning from her morning swim, just as I was leaving. “You must be mad” she said with a smile, leaning out of her car window as I pedalled off into the rain for the 15 mile treck to work in London, bare legs below bright yellow waterproof cycling top. She’s probably right - look at the things I wanted to tell you about:

…the proud, defiant look on Amber’s face (not quite as proficient a feline hunter as her sister) – “look what I’ve got; no, its mine, you can’t have it” - as she trotted across the lawn into the bushes, a froggy leg seen dangling from her mouth;

…the morning’s welcoming touch of fresh wet grass on my toes as they go about their mercy mission;

…frogs whose entire life’s story consists of being stalked by cats, caught, rescued, returned home to the pond, stalked, caught, rescued, returned home, stalked… (the “Oh no, not again” feel to events reminding me of a certain bowl of petunias from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy);

…frogs who don’t seem to know that they’re supposed to say “gribbett, gribbett”, and instead squeal like tiny soprano pigs;

…how cycling in the rain makes me feel so much more engaged in the real physical world – it’s hard to ignore the touch of rainfall;

…skies that transform by degrees from heavy grey to translucent brightness as the rain fizzles out;

…the revitalising smell of air washed fresh and clean;

…the feeling of independence and security I get from knowing that no matter what befalls London’s public transport system in these troubled times, I can still get home;

…the beautiful people I pass on the street;

…except that is for the moron driving with one hand on the wheel whilst the other holds his mobile phone to his ear – so engrossed in his conversation he doesn’t even notice the suitably rude gesture I make at him (using a mobile phone whilst driving is illegal in the UK unless you’re using a hands-free kit);

…the odd look I get from one passer-by as I realise I’m quietly singing to myself as I go;

…vague unease as I pass only yards from the spot where one of the bombs was found;

…the surreal contrast between this last and everything that had gone before on this morning.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The other side of the window 

This one's for Andrea, lover of moths; it is, I think, is a Common Wave, Deilinia exanthemata. The waves from which I imagine it gets its name are just visible, following the trailing edge of the wing outline.

Just like its distant cousin yesterday, this one obligingly stayed put on the outside of the window, whilst I fiddled around inside with the camera, downloaded the first half dozen shots, tried some more, then finally overcame inertia and went off to fetch the tripod which had really been necessary all along. All the while I sat playing with the images, the moth held to its place; only when I was happy I’d got a reasonable shot did I look up to find it had gone. After such a cooperative partnership I was getting quite attached to it - I hope it survived the barrage; after all flying through a shower of rain can’t be much fun if you’re a moth.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Learning healing jazz 

It’s the end of the school term, which means that the toys and equipment which have suffered at the hands of over-zealous youngsters have been brought home by my wife to be fixed. Restoring the damaged, broken toys back into a state of usefulness and value gives me much pleasure; on one level, the activity provides a welcome outlet for those creative craft skills of hand and eye that otherwise go unused and unappreciated for so much of the time.

[As an aside, I get the impression that those craft skills are becoming more and more of a rarity these days; time was when children had hobbies that, like as not, involved developing some kind of manual skill or dexterity - model railways, construction kits, that kind of thing. (Maybe someone can tell me what the girls did…) And those hand-eye skills would be put to good use later in life when making something yourself would be the only way you could afford it. Nowadays of course children’s “activities” seem to be more and more passive, and it’s cheaper to buy ready-made goods rather than make them yourself; simpler to throw them away rather than mend them… Sheesh! Just listen to that! I must be getting old – I’d better go get some slippers and sit in a rocking chair...]

And as well as the pleasure of putting a skill to use, there’s also an element I could almost describe as spiritual – wanting to make something whole, to heal. Or as I put it in an earlier post allowing an artefact to fulfil its place in the world, instead of being thrown on the scrap-heap.

I was talking of dreams the other day; wishes for the future. Sometimes that desire to heal, to make whole, grows stronger and larger so that I dream of being able to heal hearts and minds too. But although I might have the desire, I haven’t the skill. It’s just a simple wish to “make it better”. My hands might have learned over years of practice how to use tools and to understand how physical materials respond under the action of those tools, so ‘healing’ broken toys is second nature; but I’m a complete novice when it comes to hearts and minds. Basic understanding of principles, yes; practical experience of in-depth working with hearts and minds, no.

I started doing some occasional career counseling at work a while back, through our internal careers service, but I’ve not done any for many months now. I lost confidence in myself; felt it was entirely inappropriate for someone as confused and uncertain over his own career as I am to offer career counseling.

Perhaps the tool analogy reveals where my difficulty lies – even though I know, intellectually, that when acting in a helping role it’s usually entirely inappropriate to think in terms of the helper using ‘tools’ and the client being the material to be shaped, yet somewhere deep in the workings of my mind, that model – as a way of achieving anything – is so firmly embedded that it continues to drive my responses, even when I know it’s not appropriate. In the heat of the moment, faced with desire to help but uncertainty as to how, I inadvertently draw on the model I know best.

Or to use another metaphor...

I love jazz, but I can’t play jazz piano because my fingers fall naturally into the rhythms and harmonies of classical music. It’s what they were taught, it’s what they know. I only discovered jazz later in life when the forms of classical music were already firmly established in my mind. It’s not a matter of being unable to improvise, either. On a good day, I can improvise using classical-sounding forms, because the raw material is available to me. But for jazz, I simply don’t have the ready-made resources of the chords and their sequences out of which to build an improvisation.

So it is too, then, with my dealings with people – wanting to be counselor or coach but not having the material out of which to improvise the appropriate form of helping.

I’m not necessarily complaining by the way, simply observing that this, for the moment, is the way it is. Noticing that there is something within me that wants to help and heal, but has difficulty finding full expression because it lacks – or can’t locate – the means for that expression.

I walked around Tesco’s doing the weekly grocery shopping, looking at the faces around me, testing myself. How do I feel about all these people? Honestly? Some I’m drawn to; some faces – many, even - seem possessed of a clarity that readily allows the light within to shine through. But between myself and others is a barrier created by my prejudices. What lies behind it is hidden from me; I wonder if it’s hidden from the owner of the face too? Yet I’m sure that if you could look deep enough under the surface you’d eventually you find another human soul struggling to make sense of the world and their place in it.

That’s the level of relating I’m most drawn to; it’s a level utterly divorced from the work that I do, but it’s also a level often touched on and occasionally explored by you and I here in the blogosphere. Its what keeps me coming back here.

These meandering thoughts have come a long way from mending broken toys, haven’t they? Or perhaps not.

What's in a name? 

As near as I can tell from my little pocket guide, this is a Speckled Wood butterfly, Pararge aegeria tircis. Not that the name means a great deal; what does the name of a thing tell you about what it is? To the suitably educated the name may indicate its place in the taxonomic scheme of things – a taxonomy that is in any case man-made – but being able to name a thing so often means putting it in a box and mentally applying the attributes of the box to the thing contained within, without always seeing the thing itself.

So I’ll stick to thinking of it as the little brown butterfly that was generous enough to stop in front of my camera lens for long enough to have its photo taken, whilst its relations were teasing me with their flying-crooked antics.

Friday, July 22, 2005

OK... hold it there... now smile! 

How do you get these guys to pose? He's just way too wrapped up in what he's doing to look at the camera...

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Some lessons 

It’s been quite a while since I said anything about my counselling here. So long in fact that any mention of it now will have lost the benefit of the context provided by several much earlier posts. Should it be of any interest, this post provides some of the background.

Even though I’ve been keeping quiet about it, I’ve still been going to counselling, however for the past several months it’s been going through a long lean patch; in fact since January I’ve been trying to bring it to a close. Yet in all of those weeks when the dark side of me goes to the sessions with a secret inner resolve to drive the process to an end, the light side rediscovers something of the value in those sessions; just one hour in the week when I can disengage sufficiently from the self-sabotaging drive that threatens to stifle me (whoever he is), and allow that light-loving part a few moments freedom, a few moments to be seen.

Yet although in the minutes of the sessions the light shines for a while - albeit still only through the cracks of the shutters - within minutes of leaving, the spell is broken and the world, resentful at having been held at bay, comes rushing back in, a mass of demons intent on denial and destruction, and the insights are crowded out, trampled underfoot, shouted down by the more powerful voice of the darker self.

So although my original intention was to share as much as I felt able, hoping perhaps to try and demystify the counselling process, it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to hold onto an insight for long enough to be able to record it here.

Yesterday though was different. Something has been slowly loosening up for several weeks now; the chinks in the shutter are opening a little wider, staying open a little longer. I managed to come away with some learning intact.

I’ve always recognised that I have difficulty accepting compliments; I might acknowledge the quality in something I do or produce, yet I find it so hard to acknowledge that any such quality has its source within me. Even though I might understand, on an intellectual level, that in order to appreciate another fully we have first to appreciate ourselves, there’s always been some invisible stumbling block for me. But something clicked into place yesterday and I realised what that block is: a dislike of vanity in others has bred a fear of being vain myself, which in turn has mutated into a rejection of almost any good feelings about self. Fear of vanity prevents us appreciating ourselves. I think for me that fear has other sources way back in childhood too, but I can’t as yet access those.

I said a couple of days ago that I had no dream, but that’s not quite true. I’ve had a dream for over 20 years, but I was so engaged in it I didn’t realise I was already living it out: I’m father to three wonderful children – well, hardly children any more; they’ve grown into three of the most caring, capable, responsible, self-reliant, well adjusted people I know. Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I? Nevertheless, seeing them setting out on their own lives with such confidence and willingness to engage in life gives me an immense feeling of fulfilment; far more than I would ever get from any mere job. Somewhere along the way, we must have got something right.

The third lesson is hardest to acknowledge here, but I have to acknowledge it if I’m to move past this point; I’ve become disconnected from my own heart. Not lost it altogether, but lost the ability easily to hear its voice. So there have been times when it has had to shout to make itself heard – not with words, but with tears that seem to come from nowhere, yet hold a tremendous force; a tidal wave of suppressed power that threatens to swamp the safe façade if its full energy is released.

So this is where my task now lies; not in wondering and worrying about my job; that is not and never has been the central issue, even though I might have thought it was. The real work lies in living out that quote in my sidebar from Thoreau:

"What lies before us and what lies behind us are small matters compared to what lies within us. And when we bring what is within us out into the world, miracles happen."

I Got Rhythm! 

Looks simple, doesn’t it? But those few dots have had me baffled for days. Walking around, distractedly humming the tune of the song whilst my fingers search out but repeatedly fail to tap the rhythm of the accompanying bass line.

It’s from Jesus Christ Superstar. A local group is putting on an amateur production later this year and I’ll be playing bass guitar in the band. Hiring the score for these shows is expensive, so the musicians wont be getting the music until a few weeks before the show; for now I make do with playing along to the CD, picking out the bass line as best I can.

This song, The Temple, is tricky. It’s in 7/4 time and in this section the bass plays a fast syncopated beat against the pounding drive of the vocal line. It skips around on its own, sometimes ahead, sometimes behind what the singers are doing, but the details are hidden under the dense mass of sound. So when I finally figured out what it was doing and could write it down, I was distinctly pleased with myself. I’ll still be walking around humming distractedly, but now the fingers will be determinedly tapping their own rhythm.

Of course, having figured it out, it now looks easy and obvious. Ain’t that always the way?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Trying to use words 

"So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business."

- T S Eliot, from East Coker (No. 2 of 'Four Quartets')

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


That elderberry shot from the other day was just crying out for some "adjustment"...

(Or rather, I should say more adjustment as I confess it had already been modified a little.)

The organisation is dead 

I’d better apologise up front. This is little more than a rant, perhaps as much against myself as it is against anything else. I just wanted to get it out of my system and try and move on.

The organisation is dead; long live the organisation.

Much as I detest and despise this job, I’ve learned to live with it, after a fashion, and now that it’s under threat I realise how much my identity is tied up with it and feels under threat also.

The new order however has fewer seats in it than the old order, and we are required to play a game of musical chairs. We vacate our seats, dance to the corporate tune, and when the music stops some of us will be without.

I understand the rationale behind what they’re doing, I just doubt their competence to plan and implement these changes; they’re just playing games with the organisation, treating it like a toy. That didn’t work; let’s try this instead. The manner of their communications shows a crass and complete lack of comprehension of the impact that their plans have on the human souls that sit ranked in front of them.

I’ve been here before, but on that occasion the whole thing was done and dusted in 6 months – plans set, announcements made, 2,500 people – including me - on the way to being got rid of, and a new structure up and running all within those 6 months. This time round, all that’s been achieved in 6 months is an outline plan of a new structure, yet to be fully agreed, and no firm plans yet laid for its implementation, which is expected to take 2 – 3 years. That rate of thinking and action doesn’t bode well for a rapid, decisive response to an ever-changing business environment.

In a division whose mission is to drive leading-edge technology into the rest of the rest of the organisation, what place will there be for a technologist whose faith in technology died long ago?

In some ways, I’d love to put my hand up and say: Yes, I’ll go; I’ll take voluntary redundancy. That way I’d escape working for an organisation in which I no longer believe or can place my trust; I wouldn’t have to feign interest in matters that bore me rigid, wouldn’t have to cover up my woeful lack of technical knowledge. I could stop forcing myself to be a square peg in a round hole. I could stop pretending to be someone else, the effort of which leaves me exhausted and empty at the end of every working day.

But what else could I do? How would I pay the bills? I have no career dream I want to make come true, no enterprise I’ve secretly been planning in my fantasies; indeed, I have no fantasies.

This is what really gets to me: I have the opportunity to pack in a job that leaves me cold, and go and do something new, but instead I’m likely to choose to join everyone else in an undignified scramble to secure one of the new jobs in the new outfit, simply because I can’t conceive of a viable alternative. That hurts.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Elderberry Eclipse 

Catching the morning sun 

Saturday, July 16, 2005


"...in light upon the figured leaf..."

I never figured out quite what Eliot was talking about in the opening of the second part of Burnt Norton, the first of the Four Quartets. Perhaps not having an obvious meaning allows the music of the words, and the images that float through my mind as I read them, to create some kind of pattern amongst the synapses in my brain in such a way that the words are mediators of a communication even without having to form a coherent, rational structure. But whatever the process, I find these words curiously calming:

"Garlic and sapphires in the mud
Clot the bedded axle-tree.
The trilling wire in the blood
Sings below inveterate scars
Appeasing long forgotten wars.
The dance along the artery
The circulation of the lymph
Are figured in the drift of stars
Ascend to summer in the tree
We move above the moving tree
In light upon the figured leaf
And hear upon the sodden floor
Below, the boarhound and the boar
Pursue their pattern as before
But reconciled among the stars."

Maybe the boarhound and the boar would be chasing around below these:

Friday, July 15, 2005


Thursday, July 14, 2005


A maximum zoom of 140mm (35mm equivalent) is hardly up to the task of lunar photography. But there are ways and means...

This first image is 220 x 220 pixels cropped straight out of the original shot:

The trouble is, at this magnification, much of the detail is smaller than a pixel and gets lost. But suppose you could take a dozen or more images and somehow average them - surely there would be more total information captured, if only it could be summed into a single picture? It turns out that's exactly what software designed to pull detail out of astronomical images does.

Like this:

Just a first attempt, built from 16 individual shots (a nice binary number for a computer to work with); I need to play and find out what all the tweaks do. Obviously it can't work miracles, but there's no doubt that it gives a very worthwhile improvement.

And to put it into context, here's the complete original frame:

Freeware courtesy of Registax

Enjoying the evening sunshine 

Keep the channel open 

"There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it! It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open."

- Martha Graham

Found at elise's

Mr Average 

I am nerdier than 45% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Well that's a relief...

Found via Stormwind

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Marking time 

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
- George Bernard Shaw

I’m being a feverish, selfish little clod ailments and grievances at the moment – and as a result feeling rather disgusted with myself - which is the main reason why it’s been very quiet here lately. I’d love to be used for a mighty purpose, but… but there I go again, finding a “but” to get in the way of any positive thinking.

Things I want to talk about:
- Why I changed the title of this blog
- Whether to quit counselling
- Big changes at work (I still don’t know whether I’ll have a job here or not)
- Whether to search for a dream
When I can find a way to talk about any of these without whining, I’ll do so. But at the moment every strand of thought leads down a route that feels self-obsessed, which is not somewhere I want to go, either here or in private.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


There may be more attractive creatures (unless of course you happen to be another fly), but they're a testing subject, and I continue to be amazed by the capabilities of this camera. And to be honest, that irridescence does have a certain something going for it.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


If I’d gone in to work at the normal time, I’d have been passing through King’s Cross station at about the time the bomb went off. But I felt no inclination to rush into work, following announcements on Tuesday about total restructuring of our division, and was being lazy, traveling an hour or so later than usual. Turned round at the station and came straight home. I escaped; many didn’t.